Glossary of main terms
This section is meant to help clarify some of terms you see around this website. We hope it's helpful!
Definitions are adapted from copyright material from Heather MacIntosh (2019), Developmental Couple Therapy for Complex Trauma, Routledge...for more details and examples, please feel free to refer to the Infosheets we provided on this page as well.
A traumatic event is an overwhelming or uncontrollable experience that can happen to anyone at any age. This can include child abuse, domestic violence/partner violence, combat violence, sudden/unexpected loss of a loved one, car accident, sexual abuse/violence, and natural disasters (e.g., hurricane). Trauma can impact your sense of self, your memory and perception, your sense of meaning, relationships, and your physical and emotional well-being. Childhood trauma has a different impact because it occurs during key points of social, emotional, cognitive, and physical growth. When trauma occurs in childhood, the impacts can be more severe and long-lasting because of the impact on your overall development, leading to complex trauma. It often happens in the context of a relationship, when the person who hurts you is also someone who is supposed to take care of you. This type of trauma can affect your ability to trust and get close to others, to regulate your emotions and understand others' emotions, and can lead to long-lasting feelings of shame, self-doubt, insecurity, and high levels of self-criticism.
The term “attachment” relates to the relationships we have with significant others in our lives, in particular, the relationship between an infant and their primary caregiver and the relationship between romantic partners. There are different ways of being attached: people with mostly positive experiences are securely attached and generally believe that people will be there for them in their distress and that they are worthy of care and comfort; those who experienced relationships with their primary caregivers that caused them to feel insecure about whether they are worthy of care and whether people would be there for them likely become insecurely attached. Childhood trauma may have a significant impact on attachment. The earlier in your life the trauma happens and the closer the relationship with your abuser, the more significant the impact of the trauma is on your attachment security- potentially leading to experiences of insecurity in future relationships
Emotions serve an important purpose: they give us information about situations, ourselves, and others, and they help us decide what to do in our lives and our relationships. For survivors of childhood trauma, feelings can sometimes feel dangerous, out of control, or confusing. Survivors can have difficulty naming, understanding and tolerating their feelings, and can feel overwhelmed and frightened, which can impact their relationships. Emotion regulation involves developing ways to be aware of emotions and what they are trying to tell us, to express emotions in positive ways, to increase the ability to tolerate unpleasant emotions, to cope with stress effectively and in positive ways, and to behave effectively to match our values and reach our goals in stressful situations. Finding ways to manage those feelings allows us to feel strong, capable, and safe.
Mentalizing is the mental activity involved in how we perceive and understand others and ourselves. It is the process of making sense of others and ourselves through understanding the states and mental processes that can be seen and heard, and those that are more hidden or subtle. It is a skill developed throughout infancy and childhood through relationships with primary and close caregivers, but can also be developed in adulthood with practice. Caregivers who are responsive and make an effort to understand your needs and distress will help you develop the capacity to mentalize. In these early caring relationships, caregivers show you through their responses to your needs that you are important and understandable; and, in turn, you learn to understand the caregiver through their vocal tone, facial expressions, ways of communicating with you, and how they help you to regulate your emotions. Through this, the child learns that their feelings, thoughts, and even they themselves are okay and understandable. When you learn how to mentalize well, you can then think about, reflect on, hold, and explore emotions, thoughts, and mental states. Strong mentalizing capacities are fundamental to a person’s ability to have positive relationships and manage in social environments.
Many couples who come to couple therapy say that they have the same argument over and over again and continuously get stuck in a pattern or negative cycle. When partners are feeling angry, discouraged, and hurt, they can often turn to “secondary emotions” as a way of protecting themselves from further hurt. For example, instead of showing our partner how hurt and sad we feel, we may lash out in anger (in this case, anger=secondary emotion and hurt and sadness= primary emotions). In response, our partner may simply withdraw from our angry or critical approach, and these types of interactions lead the couple into a repetitive cycle of hide-and-seek, where one partner is longing for connection and the other is running. In couples where there is a history of trauma, shame and fear about connection can be a big factor in this negative interaction cycle. Often, how one partner responds to a distressing interaction results in an almost opposite response from their partner, such as: I seek you out and you move away from me. Frequently, the response is exactly the opposite to what we feel we need at that moment and, often, we end up feeling more hurt and alone than we did before the interaction.
|Dyadic traumatic reenactment
The dyadic traumatic reenactment helps to externalize the trauma as a force that you and your partner are fighting together, a force that makes it very difficult to shift out of repetitive patterns/ negative cycles. It is very difficult to make the shift from insight and understanding to real change when the thing we are trying to change is not something we are even aware of. For many couples, this powerful pull of unprocessed trauma happens because the trauma has not been “symbolized”, or made conscious and put into words. Being able to think and know our traumas, not just the details, but the feelings and sensations of those deeply embedded experiences, allows someone to talk about their traumas as a part of their life story and to really “get” how these traumas have impacted their relationships. We have to find ways to bring those stuck traumas into our minds and bodies so they can be talked about and explored. This can be a real challenge because it involves paying attention to the ways in which we “find” the trauma being relived in our couple relationship; these can be hard and painful. However, your therapist will help you learn to pay attention to these parts of the cycle so you can start to really pull those stuck traumatic relivings out of your cycle and begin to build a new relationship where your interactions with your partner are not based on reliving traumas from the past.
**** Adapted from copyright material from Heather MacIntosh (2019), Developmental Couple Therapy for Complex Trauma, Routledge
There are so many publications and books on the subject of trauma and its impacts, but we still wanted to provide a bit of a launching pad for further reading. Links are to publishers and/or the McGill library.
- Developmental Couple Therapy for Complex Trauma: a Manual for Therapists by Heather B. MacIntosh Publisher link McGill Library
Attachment Theory in Practice: Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) with Individuals, Couples, and Families by Susan M. Johnson Publisher link
Treatment of Complex Trauma: A Sequenced, Relationship-Based Approach by Christine A. Courtois and Julian D. Ford Publisher link
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel A Van der KolkMcGill library
Treating Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents: How to Foster Resilience Through Attachment, Self-Regulation, and Competency by Margaret Blaustein Kristine M. Kinniburgh McGill library
Treating Complex Trauma in Children and their Families: An Integrative Approach by Cheryl Lanktree and John Briere McGill library
Treating Survivors of Childhood Abuse and Interpersonal Trauma by Marylene Cloître McGill library
Attached: the New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find--and Keep--Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller.McGill library
Once I Was Very Very Scared by Chandra Ghosh Ippen and Erich Ippen Jr Publisher link
Trauma complexe: comprendre, evaluer et intervenir by Tristan Milot, Delphine Collin-Vézina & Natacha Godbout McGill library
My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem McGill library
Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship by Laurence Heller and Aline Lapierre McGill Library
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Maté McGill Library
Decolonizing Trauma Work: Indigenous Stories and Strategies by Renee Linklater McGill Library
Trauma and the Body: a Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy by Pat Ogden McGill Library
Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma by Gail Parker McGill Library
When reaching out for help, a good place to start can be your family doctor, or else your local CLSC (Locate your CLSC). For urgent services, we have included several crisis phone lines here, but in an emergency, call 911 or contact your local crisis centre (List of Crisis Centres via AMI Quebec).
Crime Victims Assistance Centres, or CAVACs, offer front-line services to any crime victim or witness.
CAVACs treat victims of crime with respect for their needs, and they proceed at a pace that is comfortable for each person they assist. The assistance centres believe in the victims’ abilities to manage their own lives and make the decisions that affect them.
CALACS (The Regroupement québécois des Centres d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel)
The CALACS focus on women and teenage girls who were victims of sexual assault, recently or in the past, and on their relatives and close friends. Their mission is to help sexual assault victims. This website links to organizations that are part of the CALACS network across Quebec.
IVAC is a compensation plan that provides victims and rescuers with benefits to help them recuperate from injuries resulting from crimes and acts of good citizenship. If such injuries render victims incapable of working, studying, or carrying out most of their usual daily and domestic activities, they may receive compensation for any potential loss of income.
SOS Violence Conjugale
SOS violence conjugale is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help ensure the safety of victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) and that of their children throughout Quebec, by offering free, bilingual, anonymous and confidential referral services. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can provide direct access to information, support or shelter.
Suicide Action Montreal
The mission of Suicide Action Montréal (SAM) is to help through greater access to information, quality services and resources. SAM recognizes that suicide prevention is a process and provides direct support to those who are lonely, depressed and contemplating suicide. SAM also assists those left behind by suicide including the family and the individual`s social network, support workers, and/or other professionals involved.
Montreal Sexual Assault Centre
1-888-933-9007 24 hours a day across Quebec
The Montreal Sexual Assault Centre offers bilingual services free of charge to anyone who has been a victim of sexual violence. Services are also offered to the victim’s family and close friends. Provincial Helpline for Victims of Sexual Assault: for victims of all ages, their close ones, and anyone working to help victims. Local services: medical and legal support for victims of 18 years and older, and their close ones; clinical services for victims of 18 years and older, and their close ones
Quebec Association for Victim Advocacy
This non-profit develops information tools, refers victims to the appropriate services, advocates for the collective rights and interests of victims, offers training for the people who work with them and brings together members who are dedicated to defending victims’ rights.
The Argyle Institute
The Argyle offers therapy and counselling services for individuals and couples on a sliding scale, as well as education for aspiring and existing professionals in the fields of psychology and social work.
Kahnawake Shakotiia'takehnhas Community Services
KSCS’s mission is to encourage and support a healthy lifestyle by engaging with community through activities that strengthen our core values of peace, respect and responsibility with the collaboration of all organizations of Kahnawà:ke. Services are offered to families, elders, parents, and youth.
Interligne is a front-line organization that, through its listening, intervention and awareness services, contributes to the well-being of people concerned with sexual diversity and gender plurality.
The Kanesatake Health Center Inc.
The Kanesatake Health Center Inc. will provide community-based health & wellness programs that are holistic, universally accessible, inclusive, and which provide quality of care, client safety, and address the rights of individuals to make informed decisions regarding their health & well-being.
Face à Face
Call Wednesday to Friday, 9AM – 5PM, at (514) 934-4546
The Face à Face Listening and Intervention Centre offers active listening, intervention, and collaborative support to vulnerable and isolated individuals, on the telephone and in person, in order to encourage the process of empowerment and social reintegration
ANEB offers support to people struggling with disordered eating.
Expression LaSalle is a community mental health centre located in LaSalle (Montreal) offering free professional therapeutic services in mental health to citizens of Montreal and surrounding areas. The Centre’s creative arts therapies (art therapy, drama therapy, music therapy, etc.), relaxation & meditation workshops, groups on the theme of sexual abuse, and verbal counseling encourage self-expression, and psychological and/or emotional well-being.
Native Women's Shelter
The goal of the Native Women's Shelter is to provide a safe environment where women can begin to rebuild their lives. We offer support and frontline services to First Nations, Inuit and Métis (Aboriginal) women and children to promote their empowerment and independence. The NWSM is the only women’s shelter in Montreal that provides services exclusively to Aboriginal women and their children.
The Lavender Collective
The Lavender Collective is a Black-led community effort, that advocates for culturally relevant mental health-related needs in BIPOC communities through education, network, and resource building.
The McGill Student Wellness Hub
The Hub provides McGill students access to health and wellness services and programming. You can also find a list of a map of off-campus care through their site: Off-campus care map
The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) is a volunteer-run organization committed to supporting survivors of sexual assault and their allies through direct support, advocacy, and outreach.
The following infosheets are taken from Heather MacIntosh (2019), Developmental Couple Therapy for Complex Trauma, Routledge. They go into more detail than the glossary and give a helpful overview of complex trauma and how it might affect individuals and couples.
- A primer on Developmental Couple Therapy for Complex Trauma: handouts_pdf_routledge_website_dctct_intro_model.pdf
- Attachment and trauma: handouts_pdf_routledge_website_attachment.pdf
- Impacts of trauma: handouts_pdf_routledge_website_impacts_of_trauma.pdf
- Mentalizing: handouts_pdf_routledge_website_mentalizing.pdf
- Emotion regulation: handouts_pdf_routledge_website_emotion_regulation.pdf
- Dyadic traumatic reenactment: handouts_pdf_routledge_website_dtr.pdf
- Shame: handouts_pdf_routledge_website_shame.pdf
- Sex & sexuality: On sex and sexuality
The following exercises are adapted from exercises in the Skills Training in Affect and Interpersonal Regulation (STAIR) therapy model for childhood trauma survivors: M. Cloitre, K.C. Koenen, L.R. Cohen, & H. Han. (2002). Skills training in affective and interpersonal regulation followed by exposure: A phase-based treatment for PTSD related to childhood abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70, 1067–1074. They can also be found in Heather MacIntosh (2019), Developmental Couple Therapy for Complex Trauma, Routledge.
- Breathing exercise
- Dyadic emotional coping exercise
- Exploring learned emotional relationships
- Words for expressing feelings
DCTCT Groups for Couples
Early in the pandemic, the McGill Couple and Family Therapy Clinic and DCTCT research tea, received a grant from the government of Quebec (FAVAC - Fond d'aide aux victimes d'actes criminels) to develop and pilot a ten-week online group intervention for couples struggling with the impacts of childhood trauma. A manual for therapists and accompanying workbook for couples are freely available in French and English.
For Therapists & Mental Health Professionals
If you are planning on implementing a DCTCT group for couples in your practice or organization, please contact the clinic to receive additional documentation and implementation support.
Please note that this document in intended for people participating in a DCTCT group for couples, led by a licensed mental health professional. It contains information and materials pertaining to childhood trauma and its impacts, and it might be upsetting or triggering. Please seek support as needed.