Many, many of my clients are trauma survivors. They seek therapy to deal with the lingering effects of growing up with toxic parents, domestic violence or sexual assault. These are the primary experiences I help people overcome through trauma therapy.
These kinds of experiences can have permeating effects in all aspects of life – relationships, work, health and the like. It can be a lot to hold all alone. When clients choose to pursue therapy, they are often not sure of what to even expect.
That feeling, of not knowing what to expect, can trigger feelings related to the trauma. This creates a barrier and prevents survivors from seeking help. And it sucks when that happens.
So, let’s demystify trauma therapy for a minute, shall we?
First, we will establish a feeling of safety.
The first thing we will work on is establishing a feeling of safety within the therapeutic experience and relationship. We will spend a lot of our time on this and revisit it regularly as it is foundational to trauma therapy.
Safety includes physical safety and stability (like having a roof over your head and food in your belly), and, emotional and interpersonal safety. In other words, how much you feel you can trust those around you to not hurt you within your relationships.
Safety can also be a bit of its own beast. Sometimes we have been enduring stress or trauma so relentlessly that “safety” is a foreign word and experience. That, in and of itself, can feel unsafe.
You may even look down on the idea and feel like safety is for the weak and you might want nothing to do with it. That happens too.
Hate to break it to you, but that’s gonna be something we would rework in therapy. But trust me, you only have your life to gain from this. I mean it.
While working on safety, we will work to identify and develop your resources.
This can include anything and everything that can be a resource to you in times of stress, for example, your natural protective styles, relationship skills, capacity for self-care and self-regulation. All of these resources tend to either go into hyperdrive or get thrown off in response to trauma. We have to take stock of everything and build on the resources you already have in action.
One thing to keep in mind is that trauma is stored in the body, and the body’s capacity for self-regulation tends to be impacted. In other words, your body’s capacity to regulate things like emotions, digestion, and breathing might also fly out the window. Because of this, we will also get attuned to what’s going on in your body in response to emotions and daily life.
Body-oriented approaches can be particularly helpful in addressing trauma symptoms. Since getting your health stabilized is part of the goal, we may work together to identify gaps in your health care needs.
Safety and resource building often have a great deal of overlap. It can be helpful to do a lot of “here and now” work. That could look like you telling me how your week was, complaining about some roommate issues or a problem at work and then diligently working on those, seemingly, smaller life problems.
This process allows us to get a feel for how we work best together and helps us identify and build healthy ways you can manage life stressors (and trauma).
With a solid foundation of safety and resources in place, the more painful memories no longer have so much power over you.
Since trauma lives in the body, you may experience some intense emotions or physiological responses as we go into this more sensitive space. When this happens, we want to make sure that your life is in a stable place and your capacity for self-care is solid. This is our foundation from which we work with the more traumatic memories. So we will check in often and proceed gingerly in this process.
And do you have to tell your story?
That’s up to you. Choice is incredibly important in therapy (and in life), so if it is helpful to you that can be a part of your therapy. Sometimes it’s immensely helpful.
Other times retelling the story can be traumatic itself.
The most important piece is to focus on identifying the feelings and bodily responses linked to the memories. Then, we will work together to figure out what to do with those feelings. It can be super creative work. Choosing not to tell the story does not prevent this work from being effective.
While we will talk about the feelings and sensations around the experience, you don’t actually have to retell the story of what happened.
Either way, trauma therapy starts simple.
Whether it’s more simple conversations about the week, doing more of a “walk n’ talk,” practicing meditations or creative activities, my goal is to provide lots of options. You have the final say on what our work together will look like.
Together, we will craft a tailored approach to help you get the most out of our time together so you can move forward.
Because that’s what it’s all about – moving your life and yourself forward.