Katja-Writing: Being Author and Audience to Fictionalized Stories of Trauma- Part II

Katja-Writing: Being Author and Audience to Fictionalized Stories of Trauma- Part II

by Christoffer Haugaard, Irene and David Epston
Join Christoffer Haugaard and David Epston as they deepen and conclude their powerful work with Irene to build stories through which she heals from brutal childhood trauma.
Filed Under: Death and Dying


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Irene wrote this story in August 2017, based on a recurring nightmare. Parenthesized comments are Christoffer’s responses.

Freedom — A Dream Story by Irene

Kate got up early that morning. She could not sleep. This night had been particularly ugly, and Kate had not dared to fall asleep after dad had gone.

this night had been particularly ugly, and Kate had not dared to fall asleep after dad had gone
(I am at a loss for words to connect to this. Even though it calls for something to be said. Somehow these words are powerful, even though it is short and describes so little.)

Kate lay there for a long time, observing her sister’s alarm clock that she had forgotten to set yesterday evening. It did not matter that much, for Kate would make sure that sister got up on time. Although the sound of sister snoring was calming, Kate also had a particular unrest and tension in her body. She lay scolding herself in her head: “Kate, get up now! Sister is safe now. You can go back to your own bed!”

(Dearest Kate. You protected your sister in this ugly night. That is what you were doing. Your love is so great that I have difficulty imagining it. And the injustice is so great.)

Although she could hardly stand to leave her sister, Kate forced herself out of the bed. She knew the danger was past and that they should be getting to school soon.

(It seems to have two meanings, this word [In Danish, the words “the danger” and “the father” are spelled exactly the same.])

Kate picked sister up from the floor and tucked her in bed.

(This is beautiful. It glows in the darkness.)

Then she set the alarm clock to ring in half an hour.

(No sleep for Kate. She must be exhausted.)

Kate walked through the dark attic and down the big staircase. She took out oatmeal and two plates. Just as she had just about set the table for sister and herself, dad came in the door.

(Stay away!)

Dad smiled with a look in his eye and said, “Good morning. Did you sleep well?”

(Are you insane?! What the **** kind of question is that?! Are you absolutely insane?)

it was a good morning, for Kate knew that sister had slept all through the night
Although Kate had not slept, she said that she had indeed. It was a good morning, for Kate knew that sister had slept all through the night.

(Your heart always belongs to your sister. I wish someone’s heart was yours in the same way. You too should be safe so that you could sleep all through the night in safety)

That was good. Dad asked if she wanted a “super-sandwich” or “sloppy-sandwich.”

(Does he not get anything? It is like he does not have any awareness that he has given his daughter “a particularly ugly night,” which I am sure is the world’s biggest understatement!)

Kate wanted a super-sandwich. She knew that the sandwich only consisted of a slice of rye bread and a slice of white bread put together with liver pâté between them. Dad believed that if the rye bread was on top when you ate it, it was a super-sandwich, while white bread on top was a sloppy-sandwich, while in the eyes of the children it was reversed. Dad and Kate used to laugh about it in the morning, but on this morning, she did not think it was very funny. The sandwich had no superpowers, no matter how she turned it. She did not feel very strong.

(Kate, you must be absolutely exhausted. And violated and degraded.)

Sister came bumping down the stairs. Kate had taught her to sit on her bum and take one step at a time.

(I bet you have taught her a thousand good things, Kate.)

Sister smiled and had slept well.

(Because Kate protects her and makes her safe. Is there a better gift to give to a child than that?)

Dad teased her by putting half a “super-sandwich” (rye bread on top) on her plate. Sister made a sound of joy and seemed as surprised about it as she did every single morning.

(This tells me that Kate succeeds in protecting her sister. Because sister seems like she feels safe.)

Sister’s happy laugh always got Kate in a better mood. They ate their bread with some oatmeal that they knew was not mouldy like the bread often was.

(I never feed my children mouldy food. Why do they have to eat mouldy food? Does Kate’s mom and dad not care? Do they eat mouldy food themselves too?)

Kate took sister along to the school bus. It was Wednesday so Kate did not have to look after her sister so much during the ride. The big kids were not riding along on Wednesdays. While sister was being silly with the boy from next door, who got on just down the road, Kate sat looking out the window. She liked to look at how the road, the trees, houses, and people disappeared.

(Is that because it feels like escaping?)

the further away from home that they got, the worse Kate felt. She knew it was not because she would rather stay at home, but it was like her body began to wake up
That made her calm. The further away from home that they got, the worse Kate felt. She knew it was not because she would rather stay at home, but it was like her body began to wake up.

(Does this say something about what Kate does to survive? Does it reveal how she prevents her body from being awake so that she does not feel what it is subjected to? Is that necessary to survive? Her body ought to be honoured as the way in which she is present here in the world. That body is sacred and should be protected and caressed. True caressing that stems from caring and loving from people you love and with whom you feel safe and are safe.)

It began to hum and hurt, and she felt nauseous. Sister and the boy were playing energetically with their bags, and one bag hit Kate on the face by accident. Kate scolded and told them to sit and be nice. When Kate turned to the window again, she felt how the pain increased on her cheek. It was nice. Her cheek went all warm, and everything else disappeared.

(Is this also a way to escape? A way to slip away? A way in which Kate protects and upholds herself?)

It was as if Kate’s brain no longer focussed on the nausea, but only on Kate’s cheek. It was a nice feeling, because strangely it somehow made her clean. It was as if it sucked up (like a vacuum cleaner) all the bad so that it only existed on the cheek.

(I think I understand what it says here, but I am not sure I properly understand what this is and why it works this way.)

Kate knew what she had to do!

The bus arrived, and Kate hurried sister along. Sister did not understand why they were in such a rush this morning.

(It is because you have something you need to do, is it not, Kate?)

The bus always arrived 10 minutes before the call to attend class. Sister was being difficult and did not want to come along, and so Kate spoke to her in an excited tone of voice:

“Look!” Kate pointed into the empty air in the direction of sister’s classroom and said, “Do you see the giant ice palace?! It’s made of ice cream!!” Sister looked around with big eyes but did not see anything.

I am impressed at your skill in making life a little easier for your little sister, and that is loving
(You are amazing at this, Kate. I think you really understand a lot about how your sister thinks and what is fun for her. And I think it is a significant accomplishment to be so imaginative and convincing while there is at the same time a seriousness in this situation. I bet there is a history of how Kate and her sister found this imaginativeness together. Kate, I know this is something you do to lure your sister along and get her to do what you need her to do. One might say that you manipulate her a bit. I know that. But I do not think it is evil. I am impressed at your skill in making life a little easier for your little sister, and that is loving.)

That did not matter, though, because Kate’s voice assured her that if you imagined something strongly enough, there was a real possibility that it could become real. And who would want to miss an ice cream palace?!

“I’ll get there first!” Kate yelled, picking up sister’s backpack and started running.

“Wait for me!” sister yelled and dashed after her. When they arrived, Kate took out some paper from her backpack, folded it and gave it to sister.

“You mustn’t eat it all at once. It’ll give you tummy ache.” Sister skipped over to the boy from next door in excitement and showed him the “ice cream”. They immediately started playing with it, while Kate put sister’s backpack in its place.

(Sister is having fun. You are giving something good to your sister’s life, Kate. That is true, even though I know that it also has a different purpose. But that does not make what you give to your sister any less real.)

After Kate had said goodbye to sister, she ran to the restrooms in the building for the middle age group. It was right next to Kate’s classroom, so she had time if she was quick. Kate locked herself in the toilet and put down her backpack and pulled out a small razor. She had stolen it from dad’s toiletries once. Kate knew stealing was wrong, but she was going to give it back – someday.

(He he. I bet that when Kate grows up you will still be able to recognize her by things like this here. This particular way of phrasing it. I like it. There is life and self-determination in it.)

Kate got everything ready like she had done so many times before — rolled up her sleeves, unrolled most of a roll of toilet paper to form a little blanket that she placed in her lap and got ready with the razor. It was important that no blood got on her clothes, because then the grownups would get angry at her — or the other children would see confirmation that she was weird. Kate stretched out her arm, pressed the razor into the skin and pulled. What a relief. She was liberated!

what is this? Kate, you call it liberation? When you cut yourself
(Does that not hurt? In biology class we once had to cut ourselves in the finger to measure our own blood sugar. I couldn’t do it. The thought of it made me nauseous and I refused. Not because I can’t stand the sight of blood. I am fine with that. But cutting myself deliberately. I can’t. Here is something that is different from what I am familiar with. What is this? Kate, you call it liberation? When you cut yourself, is it like cutting a rope that had you tied? Or is it because it is like something being able to come out of the body?)

The first cut opened her and let out her ugly thoughts and feelings.

(So it lets something out. Something that was trapped inside?)

The next cut wiped away her personality.

(Is it a particular version of you that is wiped away, Kate? Something you precisely do not want to be?)

The third cut gave her a feeling of strength and courage.

(Does something else step in when ugly thoughts are let out and personality wiped away? I wonder where that strength and courage comes from?)

And the last many cuts made her invincible.

(Wow! This is powerful stuff. Is this a big contrast for you, Kate? Compared to what you are otherwise made into by humiliation and violation?)

She always tried to cut around the bruises on her skin, but that was not possible this time. Kate had been very bad all summer, so dad had had to punish her.

(Did your father himself teach you that this is something he has to do, Kate? He does not have to do anything. It is a choice. And what must a little girl do, I wonder, to deserve so much “punishment” that she is covered in bruises? I cannot think of anything to justify it. And by the way, it is illegal. And Kate’s dad, will you stop making your daughter believe that you have to beat her up because she has been bad? Would you like to know who I think is bad? Kate’s dad: Keep your hands off your daughter. She is a most beautiful human being and you do not even grasp it. You treat her as if she were a thing that exists only for you.)

The bruises covered almost all her body. But it didn’t really matter. She could not feel the bruises at all when she cut in herself. Kate always did it quick, so it did not hurt. The pain began to make itself felt after a little while. It warmed, removed the nausea, cleansed the filthy body and made her alive.

(It cleanses? And makes alive? How does this transformation work? And perhaps more importantly: Where does it take you, Kate? I am fascinated with this Kate that appears when the body has been cleansed and a personality has been wiped away. This strong, courageous, invincible, alive person. Do you know where that comes from? What are you capable of when you have become that person? Would you like to always be that person?)

For a moment, she rested her head against the wall. Her arm fell into her lap. She went all limp. It was as if all bad that had ever happened to her disappeared. Like a wet sponge erasing all traces of chalk on a dirty blackboard. Kate had become clean. She made a new cut every time the blood coagulated. It was beautiful to behold how the blood first streamed down over her arm and coagulated in big lumps. Observing how the blood coagulated, she knew that she was normal. Her blood coagulated as it should. No one could prevent it from coagulating. She knew that in this, she did not differ from other people.

does the blood make you part of humanity?
(Does the blood make you part of humanity? I am sorry that your skin must be cut and that you must bleed to know that. But I am also glad that it is possible for you to know that, even as I wish you had a different road to that knowledge.)

It told her that she was more than a kind of object only to be taken out for the pleasure of others.

(I think we see the same in how your parents treat you, Kate: They treat you as a thing that exists for their sake. You are truly more than that. You are a living human being. I believe that when you treat a human being as a thing, then you are practicing a form of evil.)

She was a human whose blood coagulated as it should. Kate also knew that NO ONE had touched her blood and thereby spoiled it. It was all clean and now it covered her filthy body.

(Kate, does this tell you that some of you is out of reach of others? That there is something in you that is clean regardless of all the filth they throw on you? I am sorry that it takes blood to know that, but I am so happy that it is possible for you to know. I imagine that the knowledge that there is something that nobody has touched and that is clean and proof that you are a real human being – I imagine that that knowledge is quite significant for you! Has that knowledge contributed to Kate’s survival?)

While Kate sat there on the floor, her eyes closed and enjoying being in a sort of parallel reality that protected her from the evil world she otherwise inhabited, it suddenly called in for class. Kate returned to reality. Now she was busy.

Kate only now realized she had cut herself much deeper than she usually
She panicked while she wrapped her arm with the remaining toilet paper. Kate only now realized she had cut herself much deeper than she usually did. The blood under her arm had not yet coagulated, as it should! Kate wrapped more paper around it, but it kept seeping through. If she put more paper around the arm, the thickness of it would give her away. That must not happen! Kate had to think fast while she pulled her sleeves in place. She concluded that luckily it was only the lower arm and therefore easier to hide it, as long as she took care to turn it away from others. She flushed the bloody paper in the toilet and made sure there was no blood on the floor or anywhere else.

When Kate tried to get on her legs, it was as if she should faint. She had not felt that way before.

(Has she bled too much? Is it so serious that she has suffered significant blood loss?)

Kate thought it was probably because she had been running with her sister and hoped that sister was okay.

(It is always your sister that you have in mind, Kate. I wish someone had you in mind as much as that.)

Kate struggled to her legs and supported herself into class. The others were running around and were too engaged in their own activities to notice that Kate was not feeling well. She sat down on the chair, even though she knew the teacher had not given permission for that yet. Kate probably got on her feet as she ought to when the teacher came in, but she was too unwell to remember if she had.

(Kate is usually quite sharp, even in extreme conditions. And it is not usually like this? So, it is not because she is still in a rapture or in another world?)

It was not until she saw the teacher explaining a lot of things to the class up by the blackboard that Kate registered that class had begun. Kate could feel the vessels in her arm pumping blood into her body. It was almost as if she could see the arm rising every time her heart made a beat. Kate could not focus on what the teacher was saying at all. It was as if the teacher’s mouth was just moving without any words coming out. The teacher moved from side to side; and Kate felt almost car sick from watching her.

(This sounds bad, Kate, are you alright? You don’t sound at all alright!)

Kate saw how the other children opened their math books and started solving problems. She tried to do the same but got so dizzy when she bowed her head that she was close to falling off her chair.


Kate tried to focus on the math problems, but her eyes kept wanting to close, and the fingers could not manage to lift the heavy pencil. The teacher came over to her table, while she supported her head with her arm. Astrid, that was her name, sat down and asked her in a friendly voice:

“Do you need help?” When Kate did not answer, Astrid asked, “Let me see. Which problem are you at?” Kate would usually turn the numbers the wrong way, hoping to be sent over to the special education teacher. It was nice to get away from class and get help from the special education teacher.

(Does that feel more like caring than most other things that happen to you, Kate?)

Kate liked Astrid, but Astrid always paid so much attention to her.

(This is a form of caring from Astrid.)

She did not like that. It was hard to hide anything from Astrid.

(A dangerous care? Is it because this attention could unravel the masks and the acting? And then what? Would the consequences be overwhelming for Kate, even though she would like someone to be nice to her? It must be a terrible dilemma; Having to participate in maintaining one’s own prison and cover for one’s own executioner while a kind person is standing right there and wants something good for you. How do you survive that? Because you know nothing else?)

Kate always succeeded to do so, but it was difficult. Perhaps because secretly, Kate wanted to tell Astrid everything, but she could not do that. The special education teacher was very pedagogical and would end up doing the problems for you if you pretended to be really bad at it. That was nice, because then you did not have to think. It was not like that on this day, though. Kate had not written anything wrong, so she could not be sent to the special education teacher. She had not written anything right either.

(She has not written anything because she can barely stay conscious. There is something really wrong, Kate!)

Astrid moved closer to Kate and put her hand on Kate’s arm. Kate was startled and pulled in her arm in a sudden movement. She did not really intend to respond like that. It was not like it hurt or anything, but Kate was just startled that someone was suddenly nice to her.

I suspect your body is used to responding to violence
(I suspect your body is used to responding to violence. That is its first response. Is that right?)

People around Kate usually never touched her. Perhaps they thought that it was best for Kate when you did not show her kindness or attention.

(Oh no. What may that give Kate reason to conclude? Does that not fit in all too well with the idea of being filthy and wrong and not a real human being?)

At least then she would not tell any crazy stories. Maybe they were right?! Kate sort of woke up a little when she caught sight of Astrid’s hand. Astrid had gotten blood on her fingers but did not seem to have noticed it yet.

“You look pale. Are you alright, Kate?” asked Astrid, now in a worried voice. Kate replied that she was just a little tired, but then it happened! Astrid discovered that there was a fresh drop of blood on Kate’s sleeve. It was just a little blood off of Astrid’s finger. Fortunately, she had not seen how much Kate had bled through her jumper.


Astrid again put her hand on Kate’s arm and asked if she was okay? While Astrid repeated the question in different versions, the shame grew within Kate; “Why are you so STUPID to bleed through?! You do not deserve Astrid being this nice to you at all!”

(Dear Kate. I want to tell you that you are never stupid. And you are not at all in control of what your body is doing here. Your body has suffered injury and it cannot close the injury. Someone being nice to you is exactly what you deserve. That is precisely what you deserve, for you are a beautiful and good human being, doing all that you can to solve all problems under completely awful, hellish conditions.)

Astrid pulled up a chair next to Kate. This time she must have noticed the blood because she twisted Kate’s arm around forcefully so that she could see the lower arm. Kate knew that the forbidden thing happened and that she should resist, but she just did not have the energy.

(!!! She does not have the energy. This is bad.)

Astrid lifted Kate’s sleeve a bit and looked positively shocked when she saw the blood soaked paper that had tried to hold back the blood in vain. Kate came quickly to her own defence:

“I won’t do it again! It was just one time!” Kate knew that was not true, but she was willing to say anything to get rid of Astrid.

(Is this the dilemma again? Being forced to cover over your own imprisonment just when a kind person wants to help and has seen something right. Is it not terribly destructive for a person’s perception of oneself to be put in that situation?)

Kate was ashamed and knew that it was all wrong with her
In a firm and serious tone of voice, she asked Kate to accompany her out of the room. Kate, ashamed and fearing that her classmates would see how weak she was, tried to get up, but her legs would not carry her. Kate sent Astrid a look that told Astrid that the legs refused to lift Kate off the chair. Astrid told Kate to wait there and bolted out of the classroom. Kate was ashamed and knew that it was all wrong with her.

(No, you do need help, Kate. You are allowed to. It is right.)

It was not nice of her to make Astrid so worried.

(Astrid’s worry is not your creation, Kate. It is not a pain that you have inflicted on her. Astrid’s worry (and I think that word is an understatement) is a result of Astrid’s moral character and her responsibilities and duties to other people in general and to children and pupils in particular. In fact, she must feel that way as a moral being and a responsible schoolteacher. That is not something you have created, Kate. You are entitled to Astrid’s worry, Kate. You are entitled in being the occasion for the activation of Astrid’s moral character and duties to other people)

Kate found it more difficult to stay awake and again supported her head on her arm.

Kate suddenly awoke at someone pulling at her. It was Astrid and some other teachers. Kate could not quite figure out what had happened — or where she was.

(It makes me silent inside to read this, Kate. Because I think you lost consciousness just now. I think you are in very serious danger, Kate. Will you please let the adults do what it takes to help you? These people wish you no harm. I know that is probably difficult for you to believe, but will you try please?)

She was not in the classroom any longer but was lying on the floor in another room. A bunch of teachers stood around her. They looked uneasy and talked amongst each other in serious voices. Astrid had put Kate’s head in her lap, while someone else was in the process of cutting open Kate’s sleeve.

(I value the care that Astrid shows by doing like this. That is caring in a fundamental human way with no professional distance. I am drawn to the fact that the dream allows Astrid to do this.)

“You mustn’t!” Kate burst out. Kate panicked and tried to free herself. One of the teachers yelled, “She’s trying to grab the scissors!”

(Do they think Kate can be a danger to herself?)

But that was all wrong. Kate just wanted to get free and look after her jumper.

(Dear Kate. You always look after everything so well, and also other people. But right now, you are more important than the jumper. You yourself are precious. The jumper is just a thing. You are a human being.)

Astrid stroked Kate on the forehead and assured her that nothing would happen to her, that she was in safe hands and that they just wanted to put a band-aid on it.

(Thank you, Astrid. I think that is the right thing to do. And thank you to the dream for letting Astrid do this.)

Thinking a band-aid would be nice enough, Kate calmed down.


When they lifted up her sleeve entirely, they could clearly see the many bruises and the blood seeping from the toilet paper. They exchanged serious looks along with some sign that Kate did not understand.

(I think they realize something of what Kate is subjected to. I think that they think it is horrible that a child has been treated in such a way. And I think they may understand something about why Kate has done as she has. That she suffers and tries desperately to do something about the pain and the fear and the humiliations she is subject to.)

The school nurse removed the paper. When the paper was all gone, the blood flowed onto the floor. Panic shone in their eyes and they got busy.

(It is really serious. I hope Kate makes it.)

Kate felt that she was all wrong because the blood had not coagulated by itself.

(That is for the blood to decide. You cannot decide that, Kate. It is not about whether you are wrong. If I were to point out who was wrong in all this, you would not even make the list. You would make the top of the opposite list.)

A teacher passed some more towels to the school nurse and they put them on her arm and pressed hard. The school nurse looked at one of the teachers and asked, “Will you make the call?” The teacher confirmed the order and ran. She tied the towel tightly and pointed further up.

“Look!” They began to evaluate Kate’s bruises, but Kate was too tired to fight against it and could not keep her eyes open. While they shook her, she only managed to feel how the blood in her veins pounded against the tight bandage. Everything was hazy and confusing, but it was quite nice to be unable to think.

(This sounds so desperate. So utterly desperate. That the reality in which you live is so horrible that you just want to not think, and that to be able to escape thinking, you have to not be able to.)

When Kate woke up again, they were taking off her jumper. Kate resisted and Astrid asked them to stop. They did.

(I think they understand something here. I think they become aware of Kate’s dignity and the inviolability of her body — especially in light of how others have transgressed against that inviolability.)

As Astrid lifted her arm, Kate noticed that Astrid had goose bumps. “Oh, I have hurt her!”

it is not your fault, Kate. You deserve Astrid’s worry. You desperately need people who are intensely worried for you, or else I think you may die
(Dear Kate, you have not hurt Astrid. It is true that what is happening here is painful for Astrid. But it is not an evil you have inflicted on her. Astrid’s pain is a consequence of her morality and humanity and her care for others – including you, Kate. Astrid’s pain is testament to her moral character and human qualities. It is not your fault, Kate. You deserve Astrid’s worry. You desperately need people who are intensely worried for you, or else I think you may die. And it would not be best to die. That would be a loss for the world and for those who care about you, and a loss of what your life might turn into. Your fate is not sealed. Your life is so young. You are still all new. Life is not only this.)

Kate felt bad and felt tears coming. “1-2-3-4-5-6-7…..” That helped Kate regain control.

When Kate woke up again, more footsteps could be heard, and a panicky voice shouting, “It’s in here!” More people came in. Four of them were paramedics. “I don’t like men,” Kate thought and was reminded of her dad.

(That is understandable.)

“He will get SO angry when he finds out I have caused so much attention… and they haven’t even seen the bruises.”

(HE will be angry about what YOU have done? That pathetic excuse for a man who with such vile and cowardice blames his daughter for the consequences of his own actions. He should be ashamed! What kind of thing is this to do against another human being, and even a child this loyal?! May you choke on it, Kate’s “dad.”)

One of the paramedics pushed hard on Kate’s collarbone, so she opened her eyes again.

(Then they are worried. This is done to see if a person has cardiac arrest)

“Am I sleeping?” asked Kate. “Why am I sleeping?” she mumbled. Said Astrid calmingly:

“You must be tired.” Kate smiled inside — they knew nothing!

(Oh, Kate. You are far away. But I am glad that you don’t feel fear. That way you suffer less right now.)

One of the ambulance people said something to Kate about staying awake and staying with them. Kate did not understand, because she was right there?! Another asked where she got the bruises? Kate knew they wanted her to say something bad about mom and dad, and that would give them an excuse to send her to the orphanage,

(Have your parents made threats about this to you, Kate? Have they frightened you with such tales to silence you and not reveal the horrors that they inflict on you? Remorseless cowards! To think to scare a child into being one’s own prison keeper.)

but Kate didn’t want to leave her sister.

(Yes. Your sister and you, you two need each other. But you are slipping away from her, Kate. Stay!)

She tried to get away from the teachers, but this time they did not have to hold on to her. She did not have the strength to move. Astrid smiled at her and said in a friendly way, “Did you fall?”

Kate nodded.

“Did you fall at home?”

Kate nodded again.

“Do you often fall at home?”

(Astrid has guessed how things are, but she is saying it with such care and consideration. She is doing well.)

Kate nodded in confusion.

“Do you fall with your mom and dad?” Kate did not understand why she would ask so stupid?! “Mom and dad don’t fall. They are grown up!” Kate thought.

(They have fallen. They are fallen. Grownups do fall. But children need to believe that grownups do not fall. And grownups must strive to live up to it. That makes children feel safe and confident.)

“Hold her arm!” an ambulance man ordered. The school nurse took the unharmed arm. They pulled up the sleeve and all went still for a moment when they saw how many scars and bruises there were on her little arm. Astrid got tears in her eyes and looked down at Kate

(Astrid understands and it gives her pain that such an injustice has happened to Kate. She feels it. It is not only something she thinks. Her body shows it).

Kate was sorry she had been so evil that it made Astrid sad.

(You are as far from evil as you can get, Kate. What you are witnessing in Astrid’s tears is her humanity, her compassion, care, and moral character. It is right that tears should be shed for you, Kate.)

Kate wished she had never gone to school without a proper bandage that could have stopped the bleeding, so no one had seen it. When Astrid helped move the bandaged arm, she got some blood on her clothes.

that blood is your humanity, Kate
(That blood is your humanity, Kate. You got it right when you understood about blood when you were sitting in the restroom. That blood on Astrid’s clothes calls Astrid to help you. I only hope that it is not too late now.)

It wasn’t much, but Kate was ashamed and felt really filthy.

(Your blood is pure.)

Now she had contaminated Astrid. Astrid would hate her.

(You have not contaminated anyone, Kate. Astrid will not hate you. I see clear signs of love. Like Astrid’s tears just before, and how she strokes you, and how calming and considerately she speaks to you, and how she lay your head in her lap, and when she got goose bumps. I see the marks of love in many places.)

It is not easy at all to get blood off clothes. They held Kate’s arm and added drop on her hand along with another towel on the bloody towels on the arm. It hurt Kate to get the drop added. “Why are they stinging me?! Don’t they know that hurts?!” thought Kate, but she was too tired to resist.

Kate was lifted onto a stretcher and pushed out into the schoolyard where an ambulance was waiting for them. A teacher ran up to Astrid and gave her a bag:

(This is thoughtful and caring. I think these qualities are common among these people. I hope Kate may get to know such qualities)

“Here’s your bag. I have put your jacket in there too.” Astrid said thanks and got in the ambulance into which Kate was also pushed.

(Again, Astrid demonstrates love. She goes along with Kate and does not leave her alone with strangers.)

The ambulance had lights and sirens on when they started rolling. It had all happened so fast, and Kate couldn’t believe she was really in an actual ambulance.

(Dear little Kate, you are far away in your head, are you not? You do not understand. But rather that than if you were frightened. Yes, ambulances are exciting. I only wish you got to ride one just for fun.)

“I must pick up sister after school!” whispered Kate to Astrid. Astrid answered:

(She is always first in your mind. You have a beautiful heart, Kate. Let it do you good also. I am convinced that it contains enough love for both you and your sister, without any of you being in need.)

“It will be seen to. Don’t you worry about it at all. Just you try and keep yourself awake until we get to the hospital… I’ll stay right here with you.”

(Thank you, Astrid.)

For the first time, Kate felt really safe and closed her eyes.

(You deserve that. Is this not a great moment for you? That Kate should feel really safe for the first time. I wish that this would only be the beginning of a new and magnificent chapter in the life of Kate and her sister.)

The ambulance people got busy and kept telling Kate to stay here with them, but Kate needed to rest.

(Later, Kate. Not just now.)

The machines made noises and the men again pushed on her collarbone, but this time it did not bother her.

(Oh no, that is not good.)

Kate smiled to herself and thought:

“Now I will be free…”


Dear Irene. Now that I have written my responses to this story, it is the second time I am reading it. First time I just read it from beginning to end. I do not know how to explain what I feel or think after having read it. Both the first and the second time. After having read it the first time, I put on my “occupied” sign, closed and locked my door, rolled the curtains, and took my print of this story in my hand and sat down on the floor in the corner of my office. I feel the same way now. I don’t know how to write that I cried. So, it will have to be that sentence. It seems so vulgar or crude to me to try to write something. As if the letters are a vulgar parody of something strong and beautiful and terrible.

that torture can bring a person to long for death because death is the only freedom that the torture allows the person to see as any real possibility
I must be honest that to me Kate is a hero who must not die. Even though I am still cheering for her, I do sense where the story is going. I think that Kate’s (possible) death as freedom here, says something about what evil, injustice, and torture does to a person’s view of life’s value and understanding of what freedom is. That torture can bring a person to long for death because death is the only freedom that the torture allows the person to see as any real possibility. And this effect of torture seems to me to be torture’s grotesque mockery of what it means to be human. In this story it may be sweetened by Kate’s innocent ignorance of what is happening to her. But everywhere in the shadows around Kate’s shining smile and Astrid’s radiant tears, I see torture’s grotesque, mocking, degrading being. The filth belongs with that monster.

Thank you for this invitation into a world I do not know myself, and for this hospitality. For me, it is like being given access to a sacred building that people are not otherwise allowed access to. It is my hope that I may succeed to behave and speak in a way that gives something back for this gift. And I hope there are other versions of Kate’s life that do not end much too soon. Versions that take Kate on journeys she could never have imagined, or perhaps only imagined in her wildest imagination.



Irene would like to thank Christoffer and David for their dedication – not least their conviction that people with trauma can recover and that we too are human beings. Thank you!


The name “Irene” is a pseudonym. The person behind the pseudonym has been fully informed about my interest in publishing her story and has given her consent for me to write it and expressed her desire for her story to be made available to others to inspire them to find ways to address childhood trauma. Irene has contributed directly to this paper by means of written correspondence, comments, corrections, and she is also explicitly quoted in the text. Prior to submission and publication, Irene has read this paper and accepted it, and she has given her written consent for it to be submitted to a journal for publication.


Wade, A. (1997): Small acts of living: Everyday resistance to violence and other forms of oppression. In Contemporary Family Therapy, 19(1), March 1997. Human Sciences Press, Inc.

Wade, A. (2007). Despair, resistance, hope: Response-based therapy with victims of violence. In C. Flaskas, I. McCarthy, & J. Sheehan (Eds.), Hope and despair in narrative and family therapy: Adversity, forgiveness and reconciliation (pp. 63–74). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

White, M. (2004): Working with people who are suffering the consequences of multiple trauma: A narrative perspective. In The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 2004, No. 1. Dulwich Centre. Adelaide, Australia.

White, M. & Morgan, A. (2006): Narrative Therapy With Children and Their Families. Dulwhich Centre Publications. Adelaide, Australia.

Yen, A. (2009): Less pain, more gain: Explorations of responses versus effects when working with the consequences of trauma. In Explorations: An E-Journal of Narrative Practice, 2009, Number 1, 6-16. Dulwich Centre Foundations. www.dulwichcentre.com.au/e-journal.html

* This article (the second of two parts re-printed here) was originally published in the Journal of Contemporary Narrative Therapy (JCNT), 2023, Release 2, pp. 20-68 and reprinted here with permission of the authors.

© Psychotherapy.net 2023

Christoffer Haugaard
is a psychologist from Denmark who has worked with psychotherapy with a particular focus on psychosis for over 14 years. Between 2017 and 2023, he collaborated with David Epston to develop a co-research approach to voice-hearing, psychosis, and trauma, resulting in a series of publications. Christoffer presently works at a private psychiatric hospital in Denmark. He is the father of three children and enjoys Korean drama series and Ghibli films. haugaardch@aol.com 

“Irene” is in her mid-thirties and grew up in a dysfunctional family with violence and incest. She was an active child who loved to spend time with her friends, climb trees and throw pebbles in the creek. She took loving care of her siblings from a young age. During a prolonged period of her life, she performed self-harm, attempted suicide many times, and was often hospitalized. This is no longer the case. She still enjoys spending time with friends and siblings. She loves being an aunt and is doing well despite the odds against her in life. The illustration is “Irene’s” painting of her childhood alter ego named Katja and the photo is Irene’s eye, that much of her image she was comfortable sharing. 

David Epston
was, along with his close friend, Michael White, one of the originators of what came to be known as “narrative therapy”(White and Epston(1990), Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends and Epston and White (1992), Experience, Contradiction, Narrative and Imagination. He has (co) authored 16 books, most recently Heath, Carlson and Epston(2022), Reimagining Narrative Therapy through Practice Stories and Autoethnography and Tejs Jorring with Alexander and Epston(2022), Narrative Psychiatry and Family Collaborations along with well over 150 published papers. He has taught widely throughout the world over the last 40 years and is co-leader of Apprenticeships in Narrative Artistry along with Tom Carlson and Kay Ingamells.