Transforming Trauma Episode 010:
Complex Trauma Therapy for Parents of Children with Medically Complex Diagnoses with Caroline Clyborne
A podcast brought to you by the NARM® Training Institute
In this episode, Transforming Trauma host Sarah Buino is joined by Caroline Clyborne, MA, LCP, a psychotherapist in Austin, Texas who specializes in clients with chronic illness and parents who are raising children with medical challenges. Caroline is also a NARM Therapist and has seen the positive impact that addressing complex trauma, and specifically the NARM approach, has had on clients and families managing chronic illnesses and medically complex diagnoses.
After having her daughter who was born with medical complexities, Caroline observed the impact that medical trauma has on many children, as well as the impacts on parents and families. She identified an underserved population when it comes to trauma-informed care: the parents of children who are medically complex. Caroline says, “I realized that what the parents were going through was very different from what the kids were going through or what the disabled population was going through.” She learned first-hand that these parents have their own need for trauma-informed support, in addition to the needs of their children.
Caroline and Sarah discuss how disability, going in and out of the medical system, and other non-medical stressors influence the attachment relationship between parents of a child with disabilities and their children. These relational challenges often activate unresolved attachment and developmental trauma for already stressed and overwhelmed parents. Being a parent of neurotypical children can already be very stressful, but as Caroline says, “That’s different from the level of helplessness that comes up when your child has medical complexities.”
What’s often lost in the parents’ overwhelm is the sense that even when a parent doesn’t have the ability to change or predict their child’s medical complexities, they still have their ability to be a parent to their child. In the NARM approach, this is referred to as agency. Caroline says that often these parents feel overwhelmed by the feeling of powerlessness to the most significant thing in their child’s life, and then can’t recognize the agency they do have. The key, she believes, is in recognizing the agency one has even in small moments.
Caroline talks about finding “relative safety”, even when there is still an ongoing sense of danger surrounding them. Even when a parent can’t keep their child completely safe, Caroline explains that they can orient themselves to the safety measures they are taking — this space of relative safety allows parents to experience the agency necessary to sustain themselves and their children. “NARM is really great at honoring that basic human need of being able to protect yourself. Being able to protect yourself doesn’t mean that you have a magic wand and you can make the world a safe place. It’s being able to do some things on your behalf that really honor your ability to be an actor in your own life.”
Sarah draws parallels between the work Caroline does with this population of parents to all child-parent relationships in situations when the issue can’t be solved by the parent, such as during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Caroline reminds parents of the simple power of providing relative safety for their children, and parents themselves to feel into the agency that comes in these moments.
Caroline shares that when she was going through a very overwhelming time in her life as a parent, she would have loved to experience the feeling of agency that she found as she began engaging with NARM. She wanted to be able to support this feeling in her clients. She has since become a NARM Therapist which has enriched her capacities as a trauma-informed therapist. She finds the NARM approach to have strengthened her medical advocacy in adults with chronic illness and in parents raising medically complex and neurodivergent children.
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Caroline Clyborne is a psychotherapist in Austin, TX. She specializes in working with shock trauma and developmental trauma in adults living with chronic illness. She also does both psychotherapy and coaching with parents who are raising medically complex and neurodivergent children to help parents sustainably address life stressors related to medical caregiving.