Treating Complex Trauma Through Relationships: A Blueprint from the Collaborative Change Model

  • Date: Friday, June 2, 2023; 10am-5:15pm EST (Find the time for your location)
  • Instructors: Mary Jo Barrett, MSW and Liz Brenner, LICSW
  • Location: First Parish, 50 Church Street in Waltham, MA and Live on Zoom (synchronous)
  • Credits: 6 CEs


Harnessing the natural rhythm of relational change and healing with The Collaborative Change Model. If it weren’t for interfamilial trauma, there would be far less need for counseling and far less suffering. Working with families when there has been trauma is far less common than working with individuals. This training is important for helping professionals because most models of trauma treatment do not include family and relationships as a key treatment element and resource.  Therapists need to learn the value of and how to include relationship as healing interventions.

No two traumas are identical: the dynamics of interpersonal trauma and violence vary from situation to situation. Likewise, no two treatment modalities are identical. Yet there are common variables both in what our clients present in psychotherapy and in the models’ clinicians employ. One of the key ingredients in complex developmental trauma is that it is embedded within a relationship that should have been protected by healthy attachment. Traumatic events within families result in an experience of betrayal in our foundational relationships. This accounts for much of the fight, flight, freeze, fix, and submission difficulties of our clients. The myriad of difficulties people suffer from these experiences account for the abundance of innovative interventions and treatment approaches to trauma that have been developed in recent years. Therapist/client relationships need to harness the natural cycles of emotional social engagement in people’s real lives. Family of origin as well as current relationships can be used to heal past traumas. When trauma is healed in the relationships that held it, the outcomes are multiply meaningful, real, and far reaching in their effects.

Mary Jo will review the Collaborative Change Model, a practical three-tiered, systemically cyclical strength-based meta blueprint; CCM is a relational contextual model. The CCM can be applied to all models of trauma treatment as it harnesses the universal recursive nature of change. One of the key innovations of this model is working directly with relationships in which there has been harm. We will explore the repetitive cycles of trauma in relationships and will learn the Collaborative Change framework that utilizes cycles of change when working in all treatment modalities. Mary Jo will describe a Family Dialogue process that guides conversations to improve relationships between people who are in significant relational distress, disagreement and even estrangement. Through video tape examples, live role play demonstration, and experiential exercises, participants will understand key principles of the Collaborative Change Model, learning to harness natural cycles of change in intimate relationships.

Liz will describe a systemic approach used to invite family and couple members to take responsibility for change. This approach follows the CCM model. The focus is helping each individual work on their part of the problem pattern in their relationships. Harnessing this motivation to act is the art of the work. This transtheoretical systemic model utilizes strategies of reframing as well as solution focused, collaborative, narrative approaches in a socio-culturally attuned framework. The lens described prioritizes intersectional identities and socio-political contexts of the trauma including who has what power with a goal of enhancing relational justice. This model will be described, demonstrated with a video of a role play couple which will then be discussed. The case shown will provide an example of working with parents who have been investigated for neglect by the child welfare system and are struggling with issues related to substance abuse and an incident of interpersonal partner violence. 

Teaching methods will include lecture, discussion in small groups, Q&A, live role play demonstration and a video taped role play demonstration. The content will enhance clinical practice with clients who have experienced a wide range of traumatic experiences. We will teach clinicians how to focus on healing the negative effects of trauma in interpersonal relationships thus freeing people of the effects of trauma in their current lives. Examples of addressing abuse of power to facilitate more just relationships in a variety of contexts will be explored.


Mary Jo Barrett, MSW is the Founder and Director of The Center for Contextual Change, located in Metro Chicago. CCC is a clinical Training Center specializing in The Collaborative Stage Model-a component phase model working with individuals, families, and groups. Mary Jo was previously a long-time adjunct faculty member of the University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration, the Family Institute of Northwestern University and The Chicago Center for Family Health. She holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Illinois Jane Addams School of Social Work. Ms. Barrett is a nationally prominent expert in the treatment of trauma and traumatic violence in the family and in our communities. Her model is a collaborative, resilience-oriented approach which helps families create healing plans that can provide lasting change. Mary Jo also works extensively with helping therapists prevent Compassion Fatigue and heal from Vicarious Traumatization. She is a leading authority on family violence, including the physical and sexual abuse of children, neglect, incest, and spouse abuse, as well as neighborhood gun violence and has been working on these issues in since 1974. Ms. Barrett has co-authored a new book Treating Complex Trauma: A Relational Blueprint for Collaboration and Change with Linda Stone Fish (2023). Ms. Barrett has co-authored two books with Dr. Terry Trepper: Treating Incest: A Multiple Systems Perspective (2014) and The Systemic Treatment of Incest: A Therapeutic Handbook (1989). She is working two handbooks: Systemic Treatment of Trauma and Interpersonal Violence and a handbook addressing compassion fatigue. Her other publications focus on systemic and feminist treatment of women, adult survivors of sexual abuse and trauma, eating disorders, couples therapy and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ms. Barrett provides consultations, workshops, and courses, nationally and internationally to families, lawyers, psychotherapists, social service providers, staff of residential treatment facilities and staff of governmental agencies.

Elizabeth Brenner, LICSW is the Director of Therapy Training Boston. She teaches and hosts relevant, informative continuing education on a wide variety of topics in a relaxed and nurturing environment. Liz has 30 years of experience doing family, couple and individual therapy in child psychiatric inpatient, residential, home-based and private practice settings. She was on the faculty of the Family Institute of Cambridge from 2003 until 2009 when it closed. She is currently the co-director of the Harvard Treating Couples Conference and a teaching associate for Harvard Medical School providing family therapy training to staff at Cambridge Health Alliance in the Couple and Family Therapy Program. In 2017, Liz was the appreciative recipient of the award for the Greatest Contribution to Social Work Practice from the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. Liz has written two book chapters on doing intensive home-based family therapy. In 2021, she published a short article in the New England Journal for Relational and Systemic Therapy called Couple Therapy in the Absence of Presence: Translating Presence to the Screen.

Outline of Topics

  1. The Collaborative Change Model
  2. Creating Safety Through Assessment
  3. Exploring Attachment in Relationships, Present and Past
  4. A Model for Inviting People to Take Responsibility for Problematic Behaviors that Perpetuate Stuck Patterns Surrounding Traumatic Events
  5. The Family Dialogue Process for Working with Estrangement in Relationships and How It is Practiced with a Live Role Play Demonstration

Learning Objectives

Attendees will be able to:

  1. Identify three strategies for trauma work that includes present and past relationships.
  2. Describe the three tiers of the Collaborative Change Model.
  3. Compare the use of a relational approach to trauma with an individual approach.
  4. Explain how to design the Family Dialogue Process.
  5. Describe two strategies to invite people to take responsibility for change.


  • 9:30am to 12pm
  • Break
  • 1pm to 3pm
  • Break
  • 3:15pm to 5:15pm


  • Individual Registration: Regular Rate—$145; Early Bird Rate—$125
  • Early Registration Deadline: April 28, 2023
  • NEAFAST Member Rate: $120; Student Rate: $75
  • Black Therapists Rock, National Association of Black Counselors and all BIPOC clinicians may access an Equity Rate of $100.
  • Please contact us for discount codes. No application is required.
  • 6 CEs will be available at an additional cost of $20 paid upon registration for social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists and marriage & family therapists.


The event will be held at 50 Church Street in Waltham, MA and Live on Zoom. We will not be recording this event.

Registration Instructions

Payment options include online registration with payment using PayPal as a conduit to your credit card or a PayPal account. You may also register online and mail a check with a note indicating what program the payment is for. If you are mailing payment, please note that your space is not reserved until we receive it.

Email acknowledgments will be sent to confirm receipt of online registrations only. An email will be sent a few days before the start date of the event with details about your program.

Workshop CEs

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Participants MUST attend 100% of the program to earn the 6 CEs approved for eligible professions. Within a week of the completion of the event, access will be given to participants who completed the workshop and paid for CEs to complete a course evaluation online and download their CE certificate.

  • Therapy Training Boston is approved by NBCC as an Approved Continuing Education Provider, ACEP No. 6707 for Mental Health Counselors. Programs that do not qualify for NBCC credit are clearly identified. Therapy Training Boston is solely responsible for all aspects of the programs.
  • Application for social work continuing education credits has been submitted.
  • Application for psychology work continuing education credits has been submitted.
  • Application for certification by the New England Association for Family and Systemic Therapy (NEAFAST) on behalf of the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Allied Mental Health & Human Services Professions for LMFT professional continuing education work has been submitted.
  • This webpage will be updated when approvals are processed. Please contact us for the status of CE approvals.

Read detailed information about CEs here.

Cancellations and Refunds

No refunds are available for cancellations by participants regardless of the reason or time frame.

If participants cancel 30 days or more prior to the event beginning, they may apply the fee to a future program. Workshops may be cancelled by Therapy Training Boston if minimum enrollment requirements are not met or in the case of other unexpected circumstances. If this occurs, a full refund will be provided.

Additional Information

Course content level: This workshop will provide important information for clinicians who are at an introductory or intermediate level of knowledge about working with difference. Advanced practitioners are welcome to attend the event to deepen their knowledge of the subject for practice, supervision, teaching, and administrative roles.

Target Audience: This offering is relevant to all helping professionals including but not limited to social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, marriage & family therapists.

Commercial support and conflicts of interest: There is no commercial support for this program.


For all event policies read this, detailed CE information here.