Stockholm Syndrome • Counselling Tutor (2023)

A counsellor will at some point engage a client who is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

Abusive relationships and domestic violence situations are everyday examples where Stockholm Syndrome may be hiding.

Also known as trauma bonding, effective counselling is essential in addressing this psychological condition.

Stockholm Syndrome • Counselling Tutor (1)

In this online CPD for counsellors article, we will look at:

  • The origins of Stockholm Syndrome
  • Symptoms of the condition with examples
  • A treatment plan to provide appropriate therapy
  • Preparing for counselling engagements

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

(Video) What is Stockholm Syndrome? (Mental Health Guru)

Joseph Goebbels – Nazi party

The Nazi regime manipulated a whole society into believing a lie; as a consequence, millions of people were murdered.

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Stockholm Syndrome • Counselling Tutor (2)

Origins of Stockholm Syndrome

The name, Stockholm Syndrome, dates from 1973, when two men held up a Stockholm bank at gunpoint, taking four hostages.

Despite being held in a bank vault for six days, strapped with dynamite, the hostages feared their police rescuers; one later became engaged to one of the criminals; and another raised money for their legal defence.

Stockholm syndrome was the term coined by psychiatrist and criminologist Nils Bejerot, who was well-known for his work on drug abuse.

In counselling cases involving Stockholm Syndrome, it is important to note that it is not a recognised as a model of mental health illness, simply because there are no long-term studies, given that hostage-taking is a fairly rare event.

However, it’s thought that the effects are linked to well-known pieces of psychology research such as the Stanford prison experiment and Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance.

Although victims may disclose abuse, the trauma bond means that victim may also want to receive comfort from the very person who abused them. It’s a peculiarity of the way our brain works.

Symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome


Within counselling engagements there may be examples where abusers build trauma bonds with their victims by:

  • abusive relationships and intimidation
  • domestic violence
  • gaslighting
  • isolation from friends and family
  • manipulative lies designed to undermine self-esteem and ruin judgement
  • name-calling
  • focus of time and energy solely on the abuser’s needs
  • withholding of

This can happen due to the survival brain. If we’re in a stressful situation, our limbic system (the middle part of the human brain) kicks in and is interested only in keeping us alive – not in the future consequences of that.

It does this by adopting one of five positions that we can take when we’re under stress: friends, fight, flight, freeze or flop.

The ‘friends’ response involves looking to create bonds to lessen the impact of what’s happening. This can create a very complex situation where the abuser uses both fear and the relationship with the victim, creating cognitive dissonance. It can lead to long-term effects in the individual concerned.

Examples of Stockholm Syndrome in counselling

In counselling engagements, the following types of statements by clients are possible examples of the presence of trauma bonding:

  • ‘Oh, well, he had a bad childhood. That’s why he stabbed me.’
  • ‘She really seems to want to change.’
  • ‘He says he won’t do it again. He was drunk. It was an accident. He didn’t mean to.’
  • ‘She only hits me when she’s drunk.’
  • ‘He always says sorry afterwards. He didn’t mean it. He’s very remorseful.’
  • ‘I think I make her do it because I’m stupid.’
  • ‘I know he loves me’.

Stockholm Syndrome • Counselling Tutor (3)

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Stockholm Syndrome

(Video) Is Stockholm Syndrome the same as Trauma Bonding?

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Counselling Treatment Plan for Stockholm Syndrome

It is important in counselling to normalise how trauma-bonded clients feel, explaining that they’re not the only people in the world to feel this way in that situation.

While this might go against some modalities of therapy, such as person-centred therapy, in which you’re supposed to be non-directive, psycho-education can be such a relief to a client.

You could also explain what you know about trauma and survival if you’re confident enough and understand the mechanisms of the brain.

Psycho-education can also be useful in the treatment plan when working with clients who have felt some sexual pleasure during a sexual attack.

You can explain that their body was reacting in the way it was designed to, and that our sex organs are designed not to be able to be switched on and off independently. Just because the person got some pleasure from something does not mean that they were collaborating in it.

Do acknowledge and gently challenge any distorted views the client may hold about their abuser. This is always very difficult, and needs to be done with real care:

Example 1

Client: ‘Oh, he’s lovely really.’

Therapist: ‘But he hits you.’

Example 2

Client: ‘He only hits me if I do something stupid.’

Therapist: ‘Everybody makes mistakes. Even if you did make a mistake, is it right to be hit for that?’

Being fully present with clients, in their frame of reference, is vital during counselling– emotionally ‘holding’ the client while they talk about their experience, using Petruska Clarkson’s re-parenting style.

(Video) Muse - Stockholm Syndrome Guitar Lesson Pt.1 - Intro

This allows you to begin to work with the negative self-concept that the client presents, as a result of the way the abuser has treated and addressed them.

It is important tonormalise how trauma-bonded clients feel, explaining that they’re not the only people in the world to feel this way in that situation.While this might go against some modalities of therapy ... psycho-education can be such a relief to a client.

Issues such as self-blame, anger, confusion, confliction and denial are common. It’s possible to contract for how the client may safely express anger within the room.

Confusion often occurs as the client is trying to re-find their real self, which has been buried under an avalanche of negativity and abuse.

Confliction arises from love being a hugely powerful emotion, even when a relationship is flawed.

And denial occurs when clients refuse to see that being hit is a bad thing.

Other examples of therapy work with trauma-bonded individuals include:

  • offering empathy and behaving in a consistent way (to build trust)
  • using immediacy to share how their story impacts you (to help clients access words that describe the extreme nature of their experience)
  • reminding clients who are no longer in the abusive relationship that the feelings they have are actually in the past
  • understanding that their emotional functioning may be difficult (since this has been shut down by the abuser)
  • being prepared for a relapse (as it’s common for victims of abuse to go back to their abusers).

One way of working with that last point is to say to clients: ‘While you’re doing the work here, what work is he/she doing? Is he/she in therapy? Is he/she changing?’ This can help the client see how much the perpetrator really is likely to have changed.

Preparing for Counselling Clients with Stockholm Syndrome

Before working with a client with attachment bonding, it’s important to ask yourself a number of questions:

  • Am I trained and experienced enough?
  • Do I have enough sessions (six or even 12 is rarely enough)?
  • How might my history affect the process (e.g. if you are a survivor of abuse yourself)?
  • Do I need to make a referral (e.g. if a client is having flashbacks and becoming disoriented)?

Being willing to refer if the client’s needs are beyond your competency level is an important part of working safely and ethically as a counsellor or psychotherapist.

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Stockholm Syndrome

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(Video) Beat OCD Tip #6 - Stockholm Syndrome


What are the 3 components of Stockholm syndrome? ›

Cognitive: confusion, blurred memory, delusion, and recurring flashbacks. Emotional: lack of feeling, fear, helplessness, hopelessness, aggression, depression, guilt, dependence on captor, and development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Social: anxiety, irritability, cautiousness, and estrangement.

Does Stockholm syndrome last forever? ›

Sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, as well as incest, can last for years. Over this time, a person may develop positive feelings or sympathy for the person abusing them.

Why is Helsinki syndrome term sometimes used incorrectly instead of Stockholm syndrome? ›

If someone mentions Helsinki syndrome to you, it's likely that they mean Stock syndrome instead. Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition in which hostages form a bond with their captors and thereby refuse to testify against them or cooperate with police.

Can a narcissist cause Stockholm syndrome? ›

An abusive narcissist uses intermittent reinforcement to make their victim addicted to their approval. Victims of narcissists can experience Stockholm Syndrome, where they develop positive feelings towards the person who is mistreating them.

How do you break a trauma bond with a narcissist? ›

Although the survivor might disclose the abuse, the trauma bond means she may also seek to receive comfort from the very person who abused her.
  1. Physically separate from the abuser. ...
  2. Cut off all lines of communication as far as possible. ...
  3. Acknowledge you have a choice and can choose to leave the relationship.

What is the difference between trauma bonding and Stockholm syndrome? ›

The term 'trauma bond' is also known as Stockholm Syndrome. It describes a deep bond which forms between a victim and their abuser. Victims of abuse often develop a strong sense of loyalty towards their abuser, despite the fact that the bond is damaging to them.

What are the 8s in Stockholm syndrome? ›

Stockholm syndrome is a coping mechanism to a captive or abusive situation. People develop positive feelings toward their captors or abusers over time. This condition applies to situations including child abuse, coach-athlete abuse, relationship abuse and sex trafficking.

What is the reverse of Stockholm syndrome? ›

Lima Syndrome. Lima syndrome is the exact inverse of Stockholm syndrome. In this case, hostage-takers or victimizers become sympathetic to the wishes and needs of the hostages or victims. The name comes from a 1996 Japanese embassy hostage crisis in Lima, Peru.

What is a real life example of Stockholm syndrome? ›

The most famous case of Stockholm syndrome may be when Patricia Hearst, a newspaper heiress, helped her kidnappers to rob multiple banks in 1970s. Hearst claimed she had been brainwashed and temporarily became an advocate for her captors' radical ideology.

Is it possible to recover from Stockholm syndrome? ›

If you feel you have Stockholm syndrome or know someone who might, you should speak to a therapist. Therapy can help you through recovery, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. A therapist can also help you learn coping mechanisms and help you process the way you feel.

Is Helsinki syndrome the same as Stockholm syndrome? ›

Is Helsinki syndrome the same as Stockholm syndrome? The short answer is: yes, it is.

Why is Stockholm syndrome not in the DSM? ›

The vast majority of captives and survivors of abuse do not develop Stockholm syndrome. Mental health experts do not recognize Stockholm syndrome as an official mental health disorder. As a result, it is not listed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Is Stockholm syndrome real or fake? ›

Despite becoming well-known, Stockholm Syndrome is not considered a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) with many researchers denying that the condition exists at all.

Can you have Stockholm syndrome in a relationship? ›

Stockholm Syndrome can be found in any interpersonal relationships. The abuser may be in any role in which the abuser is in a position of control or authority.

What trauma causes a person to become a narcissist? ›

Narcissism tends to emerge as a psychological defence in response to excessive levels of parental criticism, abuse or neglect in early life. Narcissistic personalities tend to be formed by emotional injury as a result of overwhelming shame, loss or deprivation during childhood.

How do you break a trauma bond? ›

Outside of getting professional support, here are some steps you can take on your own to break free from a trauma bonded relationship:
  1. Educate Yourself. ...
  2. Focus on the Here and Now. ...
  3. Create Some Space. ...
  4. Find Support. ...
  5. Practice Good Self-Care. ...
  6. Make Future Plans. ...
  7. Develop Healthy Relationships. ...
  8. Give Yourself Permission to Heal.
Feb 18, 2022

What is trauma dumping? ›

Sharing trauma without permission, in an inappropriate place and time, to someone who may not have the capacity to process it. That's trauma dumping. It's become so commonplace on social media, our kids may have come to accept it as normal. It's not.

How do you permanently detach from a narcissist? ›

How to Disengage
  1. Stop all communication – take a break from social media, do not answer your phone or text messages from the narcissist. ...
  2. Have a plan – know when you are going to leave and where you are going to go. ...
  3. Find support – work with a therapist or counselor experienced in supporting people leaving narcissists.
Feb 1, 2021

How do you disarm an abusive narcissist? ›

12 Ways to Disarming a Narcissist
  1. Be calm. ...
  2. Don't feed their ego. ...
  3. Don't take responsibility for their actions. ...
  4. Don't give them attention. ...
  5. Don't give negative attention. ...
  6. Control your emotions. ...
  7. Know the words to disarm a narcissist. ...
  8. Don't give an ultimatum.
Apr 5, 2022

What are the seven stages of trauma bonding? ›

First, we will explore the 7-stages of trauma bonding.
  • Love Bombing. At the start of the relationship, did they shower you with excess love, appreciation and gifts? ...
  • Trust and Dependency. ...
  • Criticism. ...
  • Gaslighting. ...
  • Resigning to Control. ...
  • Loss of Self. ...
  • Addiction. ...
  • Stop the Secret Self Blame.
Dec 13, 2021

Can you develop Stockholm syndrome in a relationship? ›

Stockholm Syndrome can be found in any interpersonal relationships. The abuser may be in any role in which the abuser is in a position of control or authority.


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