It is not easy to come to terms with trauma - whether it is something that happened to you as a child or an adult. For most of us who have dealt with trauma, therapy was a necessary component to being able to heal and move forward.
I offer trauma therapy for individuals who are struggling with making sense of painful events that continue to interfere with their daily lives. But before diving into how therapy can help you heal from trauma, it is important to understand what trauma actually is.
What is it?
Trauma means different things to different people.
Generally, trauma is defined as distressing experiences or situations that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope. As a result, the person (aka survivor) feels helpless and/or powerless.
Events considered traumatic range from ordinary life things, such as divorce, illness, accidents, and death of loved ones, to more extreme events like war, rape, natural disasters. Trauma may be a one-time event, or a series of events.
The impact of trauma can be all-consuming, affecting a person’s emotions, thoughts, behaviors, relationships, and even their spirituality.
After a trauma happens, people may feel all sorts of emotions. Fear, shame, shock, guilt, vulnerability, disbelief, numbness, anger…and more. They may question their faith. These are normal feelings resulting from something happening that is ‘not normal’.
There is no wrong way to feel. Sometimes trauma’s effect on feelings is to diminish them, leaving the person feeling numb.
Common thoughts after a trauma are beliefs such as “It was my fault”, “If only I had (or hadn’t) done ‘x’, this would not have happened”, “Life is unfair”, “I have a black cloud that always follows me”, or “I am damaged.”
In an attempt to cope with trauma and its aftermath, people may turn to alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, eating disorder behaviors, self-injury, social isolation, or other behaviors to feel better, sometimes with the purpose of numbing or distracting from emotions.
Trauma affects relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners. The survivor may have difficulty establishing and sustaining closeness with other people. Challenges with trust, problem-solving, intimacy, and communication are common.
How Trauma Therapy Can Help
I use many different techniques and strategies to help people heal from trauma. This makes the trauma therapy I practice unique and individualized to each person I work with. Below you’ll find some of the ways I work with my clients to heal and overcome their trauma(s) and move forward confidently with their lives.
Educating the survivor about trauma is important. In this initial phase, you learn about normal reactions to trauma. Often this includes some of the basics of trauma’s cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioral effects. Without this information, survivors are more likely to believe something is wrong with them and that they need to be fixed. Remember - even though you may feel or believe you are broken, you are not broken.
Survivors often expect that in order to heal, they have to tell their story. Actually, you do not need to retell what happened. Scientific advances in memory and trauma processing suggest there are better and more effective ways to heal from trauma. Especially because we know now that trauma is stored in the body. Trauma can originate so early in life that language is not part of the memories that are stored. Central to this dimension of trauma therapy is trauma integration. Different types of trauma therapy are designed for trauma processing, including Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), and other mind/body techniques. Techniques including mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can be helpful to the processing of trauma.
Resilience, or grit, has to do with “bouncing back” from adversity. Trauma therapy provides skills to strengthen the resilience that already exists in you. People often have way more resilience than they give themselves credit for having.
Self-compassion is a key aspect of resilience. Self-compassion practices are easy to learn and include three elements: mindfulness, shared humanity, and reappraisal self talk.
These are just three of the techniques I use with my clients to help them put their traumatic experiences in perspective.
Trauma therapy objectives are all about helping people expand on capacities. The first capacity to strengthen is internal resources for safety. Another is the capacity to manage symptoms associated with attempts to cope. Ultimately, the capacity to feel vitality and joy in life, including in relationships, is the goal. For that to occur, the trauma must become integrated into survivors’ healthy sense of self.