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Trauma Therapy: Exploring the Power of Compassionate Inquiry

Gabor Maté’s Compassionate Inquiry as Trauma Therapy changed my life as a person and as a therapist.   Many of you may be familiar with Gabor’s work as a medical doctor turned trauma expert.   For those of you who aren’t I

will do a quick summary below:    

Understanding Compassionate Inquiry: A Somatic Tool for Trauma Therapy

In the realm of trauma therapy and personal development, Compassionate Inquiry stands out as a profound method for exploring the depths of human experience with empathy and understanding. 

Developed by renowned physician and trauma expert Dr. Gabor Maté,

Compassionate Inquiry offers a unique approach to uncovering the underlying causes of emotional pain and trauma, paving the way for healing and transformation.

Gabor developed this method from his years of working as a medical doctor and seeing that more than 90% of his patients complaints were not of a biological origin, but were the result of trauma.

What is Compassionate Inquiry?

At its core, Compassionate Inquiry is a technique that combines curiosity, empathy, and mindfulness to delve into the root causes of emotional suffering in trauma therapy. 

Unlike traditional forms of inquiry, which may focus solely on cognitive exploration,

Compassionate Inquiry integrates the emotional and somatic dimensions of experience, recognizing that trauma is stored not only in the mind but also in the body.


Key Principles of Compassionate Inquiry


Curiosity with Kindness 

First, Compassionate Inquiry encourages therapists and clients to approach the exploration of trauma with genuine curiosity and non-judgmental kindness.

By adopting an attitude of openness and acceptance, individuals can

create a safe space for deep exploration and healing in trauma therapy.

Exploring the Story Beneath the Story

Next, Compassionate Inquiry invites individuals to delve beneath the surface and explore the underlying narratives and beliefs that shape their experiences.

This process often involves uncovering childhood wounds, unconscious patterns, and core beliefs that contribute to ongoing emotional distress.


Honoring the Body’s Wisdom 

Central to the practice of Compassionate Inquiry is the recognition that the body holds valuable information about past traumas and unmet needs.

Therapists are trained to attune to clients’ bodily sensations, gestures, and

subtle cues, allowing for a holistic understanding of their experiences in trauma therapy.


Embracing Vulnerability

In the safe and supportive environment of a Compassionate Inquiry Practitioner, individuals are able to explore their emotions and become aware of how that shows up in their bodies.

This process of radical honesty and self-exploration fosters deep connection and facilitates the release of the stored trauma in trauma therapy.


How Trauma Therapy is Conceptualized in Compassionate Inquiry


Gabor talks about trauma in very specific ways.  He defines trauma as a disconnect from ourselves.  

Then he asks, why do we disconnect?   “Because it was too painful to be ourself and that becomes a lifelong dynamic.” 

We disconnect from our gut feelings because we had to in order to survive what happened to us.

He further explains that we are born with two very strong urges:  the urge for attachment and the urge for authenticity.  

As human infants we will die without attachment because we are not mature enough to provide for our needs

for years and we are unable to self-regulate on our own.

We will sacrifice authenticity in order to attach because we won’t live otherwise.  

So instead of saying to ourselves, “our parent has something in them keeping them from meeting our needs” we tell ourselves “If I were a better kid I

would deserve love”.   We make ourselves wrong, we deny authenticity, and we detach from our gut feelings for survival.

When we were children and had no power, needed the other to live, this was a really smart plan.  

It gave us a sense that we could control the outcome and we focused on finding attachment.   However, those coping skills aren’t

intended to be used for the long haul. 


At some point, denying our own needs and only focusing on the needs of others leads to exhaustion, disease, maybe anger, and relationships that don’t really feel fulfilling.  


Why did we disconnect from ourselves?   It wasn’t intentional.   When it hurts so so much and you are so small and you are so vulnerable and helpless, the pain is too much.

  What could you do but disconnect?   This wasn’t  conscious.  It was your brain and body’s way of saving you.  There was deep wisdom in that originally, but now it is that deep wound.

  The result is that now, when you have authentic feelings, you feel wrong and anxious.

Gabor also states that trauma shapes how we see the world and our capacity to gauge safety.  

By being disconnected from our gut feelings we either go into hyper-vigilance where we are gauging that everything is dangerous or

we had to lose our boundaries and so nothing registers as dangerous.    


Shame and Trauma Therapy


Trauma gives you a shame-based view of yourself.  Shame is inflicted on you by trauma.

 It was adaptive in that it helped to preserve the attachment by you believing there was something wrong with you. 

Gabor says, “It had nothing to do with that, it was about connection or lack of connection.  

When you feel shame, tell yourself that someone broke the bridge of connection and never repaired it.”

No one should have shame about themselves, they might and should have remorse for actions or for being out of alignment with themselves or not honoring commitments.

  Remorse is a healthy response to those things. 

Shame is about feeling the lack of connection. 

In Compassionate Inquiry the goal is to get to your truth and that is in your body.  You carry what happened in your nervous system. 

What you are experiencing in the present, through mental health or physical health issues, is an

echo of what happened a long time ago. 


How Compassionate Inquiry Helps in Trauma Therapy


For individuals who have experienced trauma, Compassionate Inquiry offers a powerful pathway to healing and liberation in trauma therapy.

 By gently exploring the origins and impact of past traumas, individuals can begin to

untangle themselves from the grip of unconscious patterns and beliefs that have shaped their lives. 

We work to get to the belief we hold about ourselves, how we developed that belief, and how that belief shows up in our bodies.

  Compassionate Inquiry reveals how we see things, how that makes us feel, what is going on with me right now in the present, and where does that come from?

What we think we are upset about is not really what is upsetting us. 

It is also about not taking your perspective as truth, but inquiring into that perspective.    


Reconnecting with the Self


Through the process of Compassionate Inquiry as trauma therapy, individuals learn to reconnect with their authentic selves beneath the layers of trauma and conditioning.

By cultivating self-awareness and self-compassion, they can begin to reclaim their sense of agency and inner strength.

It is powerful when I tell my clients to see their triggers as gifts.  

I see the shift as they start to become curious instead of just pushing the trigger away.  This is something that Gabor often says.  

“Our traumas lead us back to ourselves and our traumas are not random.

The wounds we sustain and how we deal with them are specific manifestations of where we lost connection to ourselves.

Therefore they can be pathways back to ourselves.”   Gabor goes on to say, “The disconnection from the self IS the greatest wound.”

I can say personally, I never knew how good it could feel to be in my own skin.  

My goal when I started the Compassionate Inquiry Practitioner Training was to learn to love myself.

 I hoped it would help my autoimmune disease.  Learning to love myself took a lot of hard work but I am really getting there.  

I can’t prove the second, but about halfway through my training program, my bloodwork started to improve.

As we start to love ourselves more, we start to take better care of ourselves.

And I can only state there is a correlation with improved health.  

I cannot prove causation.   


Healing Emotional Wounds


Compassionate Inquiry provides a safe container for individuals to process and release suppressed emotions in trauma therapy.

By allowing themselves to fully experience and express their feelings, they can begin the journey of emotional healing and integration.

Gabor says “Children don’t get traumatized because they are hurt.  It is because they are alone with the hurt.”

Compassionate Inquiry Practitioners work with clients to hold space for clients to be able to get to that realization of when they were alone with their hurt.  

The relationship with the Trauma Therapist is key because the hurt was caused in relationship and so is healing.  

Below I will talk more about the therapists qualities that lend to healing in this modality. 


Working with Wounds in Trauma Therapy


Gabor talks about using our wounds as a roadsigns back into ourselves.  

“We can resent (our wounds), hate it, and want it to go away… Why wouldn’t we?   But that doesn’t help.   It leaves us stuck in it.  It’s not that we are wrong

to want to escape our traumas or the impact of the trauma.   We aren’t wrong to want to let go of dysfunctional ways.   What is helpful is curiosity and to maintain the curiosity.  What can this teach me?  

That is where compassion comes in and curiosity.”

  So many people try to medicate the pain away, but when they stop the medication, the pain is still there.

What Compassionate Inquiry does, is ask, why the pain?   If we can explore the root of the issue,

know what mechanisms are in place, we can stop the rewounding and heal.


Transforming Limiting Beliefs


Many individuals who have experienced trauma carry deep-seated beliefs about themselves, others, and the world that keep them stuck in patterns of suffering.

Through Compassionate Inquiry as trauma therapy, these limiting beliefs can be brought into awareness and gently challenged in trauma therapy,

paving the way for new perspectives and possibilities. 

Our minds are shaped by our world and experiences, and our mind in turn shapes our world.   

Often times, people with trauma feel stuck.   They can’t seem to get out of patterns of interaction.   

Gabor states, “We don’t respond to what happens, we respond to our perception of what happens.”  

If I have a deep seated belief that I am not good enough and I don’t get a raise this year, it will hit that deep wound of not feeling good enough.  

However, there might be other possible interpretations such as the business doesn’t have the budget and no one

got a raise or maybe I am going to be offered a promotion and they are waiting for it to clear HR.  

 It is our trauma experience that takes us out of our adult self and into the wounded part that believes I am not good enough,

and that limiting belief is what we are entangled with.    

Compassionate Inquiry for trauma therapy works to illuminate that belief so that you can work to overcome it and find your truth.  

Trauma isn’t responding to the present moment, it is reacting to the past and out of that place of pain.  


Cultivating Resilience


Ultimately, Compassionate Inquiry empowers individuals to cultivate resilience in the face of adversity. By developing greater self-awareness, emotional regulation skills, and self-compassion,

they can navigate life’s challenges with greater ease and grace.

Knowing that trauma isn’t about what happened in the past, but it is our response to what happened in the past without the support of a loving other, it makes us powerful.   

What gives us power is knowing that we are the ones who created the maladaptive perceptions so we CAN change them.   

The good news is that we have access to ourselves for reconnection. 

Gabor states, “Under the traumatized person is a healthy individual who never had expression in their life….  Trauma involves a lifelong pushing down of tremendous energy to not feel the pain.  

As we heal, that energy is able to transform into living.”


Becoming a Compassionate Inquiry Practitioner


I am one of 36 people in the US Certified in Compassionate Inquiry.  The process took me two years but can be completed in 1.5 potentially.    

I spent a year studying with Sat Dharam Kaur as my instructor and in a cohort of 18 amazing therapists, doctors, and coaches.   

We met weekly in a large group and twice a month in dyads or triads practicing what we were learning.  

It was a huge investment of time with some modules consisting of 10 hours of materials to consume.    

The first third of our training was working on our own stuff.  Moreover, to be able to hold space for another person we have to be grounded in ourselves.  

A whole lot of stuff came up for me.   CI was a very somatic trauma therapy.

  As I processed things from my childhood, things I couldn’t consciously remember, my jaw would tremble and my body temperature would change.  

I remember my hands shaking during some sessions.   

It was about 5 months into the program that we started to see continued improvement in my bloodwork for the autoimmune disease I was diagnosed with.   

I tell people that it was like going through a meat grinder a few times and then figuring out how to put yourself together again.  

The training was intense, but worth every minute and every dollar I spent if only for the personal healing.  


Mentorship for Trauma Therapy


Once I completed the year-long program, I then had to do a 6 month mentorship before I could apply for certification.

I did over 100 hours of CI sessions, I can’t tell you how many dyads and triads for practice with other practitioners,

and had to submit a video to a panel of certified practitioners for evaluation of my ability to demonstrate the modality.

Though it was a commitment of time and funds it was an amazing experience going inward and working with like minded trauma therapy practitioners.   


What Makes a CI Practitioner Different from other Therapists for Trauma Therapy?


First, a large portion of our training is spent on working on ourselves so that we show up to session with the capacity to hold space for our client.

In CI there are essential qualities for the therapist to embody.

1- Empathetic Abiding Presence: 

This is about creating a place where you are present, aware of what the client is experiencing, and you are compassionate.  

During a CI session, the therapist is neutral but provides unconditional love, acceptance, and understanding. 

My clients are always amazed at how I can read what their body is saying during our trauma therapy sessions.

2- Self Awareness:  

Look at our own triggers, pain, and shame and how they show up.  The therapist notices if they have an agenda and they lose the agenda. 

I have to say, I come into a trauma therapy session and really want healing for my clients,

but my brain’s path to healing is not the path for my client’s brain.

  I have to trust that their brain finds the way for them, and I do.

Additionally, the key is to be able to provide connection and compassion for your clients so attending to your own inner work.

3- Trust Your Gut Feelings: 

The therapist has to be able to be in touch with their own gut feelings and what happens if they ignore them.  Know the difference between a gut feeling and a trigger. 

This allows the client to explore their own gut feelings in trauma therapy.  

Through this exploration the client is able to practice reconnecting to themselves. 

4- Curiosity & Authenticity:

The therapist is connected to themselves and to the client.   Therapist takes responsibility for their own triggers and how it shows up in the trauma therapy session.  

Therapist learns to be curious about whatever emotions arise for the client and everything the client brings into session.

 There is no blame or shame, just noticing and curiosity.

5- Confidence:

Additionally, there is another side of the belief the client is carrying and the client wants to know their truth.  The therapist has to trust themself and the client,

the client can heal with your presence in trauma therapy.  

6- Non-judgment & Acceptance:

Accept the client as they are and accept your own imperfections.   

7- Compassion: 

Therapist learns how to support the client on their journey to wholeness without judgment.   The CI Therapist holds space unconditionally in trauma therapy.  

Moreover, the Therapist seeks to understand the  client so that they can understand themselves.  

8- Playfulness:

Trauma work is difficult and bringing a sense of playfulness into the process is healing is essential for trauma therapy.

 As a result, we can laugh at ourselves not maliciously, but out of love and compassion.   

Compassionate Inquiry is one of the most powerful talk therapy modalities I’ve ever used for trauma therapy. 

It is a very somatic process and offers a profound framework for healing trauma and reclaiming wholeness. By

embracing curiosity, empathy, and mindfulness, individuals can embark on a journey of self-discovery and transformation.

 They are guided by the wisdom of their own hearts and bodies, supported by an attuned and

compassionate therapist. 


If you or someone you know has experienced trauma and is seeking support, Shay is a Compassionate Inquiry Practitioner licensed in California.   You can book a session using the link above.


Together, you can embark on a journey of healing and self-discovery guided by the principles of compassion and curiosity.  Trauma Sucks, but Trauma Therapy doesn’t have to.