Working through childhood trauma-related interpersonal patterns in psychodynamic treatment: An evidence-based case study

Kimberly Van Nieuwenhove*, Femke Truijens, Reitske Meganck, Shana Cornelis, Mattias Desmet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Adult interpersonal difficulties are considered 1 of the core consequences of childhood trauma exposure. However, research concerning the nature of interpersonal patterns associated with childhood trauma is scarce. The aim of this case study of a supportive-expressive psychodynamic therapy with a woman with a traumatic background, is to provide a detailed understanding of the nature of interpersonal patterns at the beginning and throughout therapy, and to provide an in-depth investigation of the therapeutic process. Method: The Core Conflictual Relationship Theme method (Luborsky & Crits- Christoph, 1998) and the Penn Adherence/Competence Scale for Supportive Expressive Dynamic Psychotherapy (Barber & Critis-Christoph, 1996) were applied to study dominant interpersonal patterns and therapeutic interventions, respectively. Results: At the beginning of therapy, the patient was unable to safely express herself because others were perceived as critical and rejecting. This relationship pattern originated in her primary (traumatic) childhood relationships and was repeated in her adult relationships. As treatment progresses, the patient aspired more proactively to assert herself and felt more self-confident in interactions, although she consistently perceived the reactions of others in a negative way. The neutral, acknowledging and empowering attitude of the therapist created a new relational experience, through which change (on the interpersonal level) appears to be achieved. Conclusions: We conclude that to adequately address interpersonal difficulties in therapy, it is fundamental to recognize dominant interpersonal patterns and to apprehend their dynamics within the broader context of the case.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019
Externally publishedYes

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© 2019 American Psychological Association.

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