Member profile: Adriana Seifertova

The February 2022 member profile is clinical psychotherapist and accredited supervisor Adriana Seifertova, who completed training with PACFA partner organisation Griefline in August 2021. Adriana works with the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) and runs a private clinic in the Blue Mountains, NSW, Temenos Psychotherapy & Counselling. 

How did you become a psychotherapist/counsellor? I see your undergraduate degree is in economics… an unusual combo of undergrad/postgrad studies! 

The desire to become a psychotherapist started in my teenage years. It was intertwined with my interest in philosophy, mythology, cosmology, Buddhist psychology and other esoteric traditions that were concerned with consciousness and ways of achieving internal wholeness. As a young person growing up in a dissident family of communist Czechoslovakia, I was not allowed to study psychology, or any courses grouped under the social sciences. Instead, I chose economics, partially because of the belief that mathematics is as mysterious as a human mind, and also because the course offered subjects in psychology and philosophy. Moving to Australia with my husband and young daughter in my thirties offered many opportunities for change. One change was to pursue my dream to become a psychotherapist. While working full time for 10 years in an investment bank in Sydney’s CBD, I took courses in Buddhist philosophy and Jungian psychology, and eventually completed formal postgraduate studies in psychotherapy and counselling at Jansen Newman Institute (JNI). My long-term interest in Carl Jung led me to Sandplay therapy and more training in this modality not only in Australia but also in Switzerland. 

You recently did training with GriefLine, which partnered with PACFA last year. Can you describe that training and how you intend to utilise it in your practice? 

The GriefLine training provided an opportunity to deepen my skills and knowledge about bereavement and new evidence-based treatments. As a result, I gained more clarity about the subtle differences between prolonged grief disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, comorbid disorders, risk factors, the impact of ambiguous and disenfranchised grief, and treatment interventions. The training consolidated past learning and equipped me with a clearer direction in choosing the most beneficial treatment for my clients.  

Through the GriefLine course, I have strongly been drawn to constructivist and narrative therapies and their assumption that a person constructs the meaning of external events by his / her own construction of its significance, rather than by the ‘brutal facts’ themselves. Thus, from the above standpoint, we are all (co)authors of our life stories, struggling to compose a meaningful account of important life situations; revisiting, editing, or rewriting these life events when challenged by trauma. Significant loss presents a challenge not only to a person’s sense of narrative coherence but also to his / her sense of self.  

All the above resonates strongly with my own therapeutic orientation (Jungian Sandplay and transpersonal psychology), and thus I will utilize these new approaches in my clinical practice. 

What is it that keeps you inspired as a therapist? 

I think that, as with many of us in healing professions, what inspires me is the desire to alleviate human suffering and to support soulful living. I am often asked how I can do this job, working with severe trauma victims. I answer that I see ‘trauma survivors,’ not victims. I feel very privileged and with a strong sense of gratitude to work as a therapist. To sit in a space where others share their vulnerabilities and/or deep struggles. The space where the client has enough courage to trust me to accompany them on a journey to dark places and eventually to places of integration and transformation. 

Compassion for the human condition and the premise that we are not passive victims of our circumstances but have freedom to choose how we want to be, are the main foundations I work with. I believe that we all possess the natural self-healing capacity that is seated in the deep centre of our being, and I see psychotherapy as the work of finding, unlocking and opening doors through which healing can flow, and seeds towards transformation can be nurtured. I also approach all the suffering and pain that clients present, as an opportunity to use the crisis for personal growth and as a pathway to a deeper connection with the true self.  

In addition to the above, I have long experienced a strong desire to understand the basic questions of human existence – who we are, what drives our behavior and emotions, what is the source of suffering and how can we achieve embodied wellbeing and wholeness. Working with clients and being a part of their process of transformation, helps me to find answers to these questions. I strongly believe that therapy is a two-way road and that as I have been contributing to my client’s healing, I also have been growing in that process not only as a therapist but also as a human being.  

You work for the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors. How do you work differently with this client group? Can you say something about how Sandplay is useful when working with people who have complex trauma in their life history? 

Refugees and asylum seekers often present with complicated trauma history, including complex mental health presentation with comorbid difficulties, and additional settlement stressors. On a deeper level, the process of healing, regaining the sense of self, and re-organising the internal landscape that was distorted due to trauma, are features of all people, disregarding their race, gender, or social status. From my 13 years of work experience at STARTTS, I would say that working with this client group can be quite intense and demanding especially at the beginning of the therapy – to develop the therapeutic relationship, trust, to attend to the risk behaviors, symptom management, and to create therapeutic safety for trauma processing. For some clients that stage can take a very long time. As a therapist I utilize various trauma treatment approaches and Sandplay is one of them. So how can Sandplay therapy be used for trauma survivors?  

Since the primary goal in trauma treatment is the integration of traumatic memories with a completed narrative, Sandplay Therapy, by using sensory and kinesthetic modalities, allows for the exploration and reconstruction of trauma narratives in a non-threatening way, which facilitates trauma recovery.  

Sandplay addresses Judith Herman’s 3 step trauma protocol to establish safety, reconstruct the trauma and restore connections with the community. Play in the sand tray with clearly defined boundaries and use of symbols (miniatures) and water allows clients to distance themselves from profound emotional experiences and thereby allows them to engage in contemplation and reflection. Symbols also provide clients with the opportunity to reenact problems in non-threatening ways – for example to process traumatic nightmares, to create a family tree, to install a safe place. Most trauma survivors experience some form of dissociation from traumatic memories. Through its multisensory modalities, Sandplay allows the invisible, unknown, and dissociated aspects of trauma and the traumatized self to safely be given symbolic form, to be witnessed and related to.  

As work in the sand tray is essentially non-verbal (at least initially), it can also provide clients with a useful bridge across the limitations of traditional talk therapies. Sandplay can be used to free creative inner resources and to express feelings, perceptions, and non-verbal memories, bringing these into a contained space for processing and healing. As such, it can provide a powerful modality for clients whose verbal and cognitive skills might otherwise form an internal barrier to safely feeling and processing trauma memories.  

Sandplay has been described as a ‘garden for the soul,’ where clients can re-unite all aspects of themselves, including the wounded parts, the forgotten and disowned aspects – as well as discovering untapped resources and inner wisdom. In trauma therapy terms, the integration between the ‘experiencing self’ and the ‘observing self’ can take place, leading to higher awareness, resulting in positive behaviour change, renewed vitality, and a sense of meaning and deeper purpose in life.  

What do you do to make the transition from work mode to personal mode and prevent burnout? 

I learnt that the most important thing to prevent burnout is to stay fully present and mindful. Not only in the session with the client but all the time. Then, the strong line between a ‘work mode’ and ‘personal mode’ becomes subtle and eventually disappears… and what stays is the ‘present me’ working, processing, and living whatever is happening in the moment. Well, that is the idea, and I am striving to achieve it. In addition, I try to cultivate the ability of ‘generous attunement’ with the client and myself, versus ‘identification’ with emotions and feelings. To practice compassion and to empower the client instead of rescuing, while monitoring transference and countertransference. And summarizing all the above: to work continuously on increasing my own level of consciousness.  

I draw from spirituality, nature, and art. I practice daily meditation, yoga, and Tai chi. I spend lots of time in nature – hiking, kayaking, camping. I love art in any form including music, theatre, film, dance, poetry, and being creative – I paint, sculpt, write, and design.  

Before the Covid time (it is interesting how we started divide time to ‘before and after Covid’) it was very important for me to change my physical location - to travel whenever I felt tired or at the point of change (in Australia, Tibet, Nepal, Iceland, Norway etc.). These travels became internal pilgrimages that provided not only healing but also new insights that informed important decisions in my life.  

And of course, immensely important for my internal balance is the container provided by my family – my husband and daughters, and friends and people with shared spiritual beliefs. I love to spend time in laughter and shared joy, relaxation, and simplicity of being, and doing silly things or something new and challenging to satisfy the curiosity drive.