All clients should, of course, be treated with dignity and respect, but when working with victims of trauma, a ghostwriter needs to employ a certain type of sensitivity, for speaking about distressing events that leave scars tends to dredge up an emotional tsunami that can be overwhelming for the survivor.
The fact that they have arrived at a point in their life where they are ready to open the box of anguish that has, in some cases, been padlocked for decades requires immense courage, and I’ve felt privileged to have been witness to that process when working with clients who’ve experienced life-changing, degrading abuse. I’ve found the gamut of vileness inflicted upon them quite horrific, and marvelled at their ability to persevere in the face of recurrent disturbance, as few days must pass without the past vomiting up painful reminders of times that they’d far sooner bury without trace, but cannot.
The better news here is that everyone I’ve worked with carrying that depth of pain has found the process of airing it to be cathartic, helping them move on from a place that has held them hostage for far too long. That process will be difficult, emotionally draining and, at times, problematic, and ghosts may find themselves in the position of being a kind of counterfeit psychologist. Some of us may have had some training in that field, but I don’t, so it’s more a case of listening with empathy and respect, and very delicately wording questions that excavate a little deeper into certain areas. Sometimes it’s better not to go there at all, and just let experience, together with the aforementioned empathy and respect, guide as to if and when this should occur.
The big word here is trust. If somebody has chosen you to be the caretaker of that trust, then it is to be honoured and respected, and once their story has been told, it’s imperative to employ great subtlety and awareness when discussing which parts are to be retained, and which parts excluded. It’s important to remind a client that once material is in the public domain, should publication be sought and achieved, it’s there for good and can never be taken back, so a certain level of certitude is essential for them to be happy with the finished product. Publishers may well push for a different angle – sometimes one that won’t be in the best benefits of the author – so if they aren’t entirely happy with some strands of their story, then it’s best to delete them.
In my experience, by the end of it, survivors are at least a little liberated, empowered and unburdened – and sometimes a lot more than that – and the ghost can play a crucial role in that cleansing, healing process, which is the greatest reward for a writer who cares as much about helping somebody expunge some of the pain that’s been holding them back as they do keeping a roof over their head.