Working therapeutically with trauma
Trauma affects many people in unique and individual ways. You may be a survivor of sexual abuse, sustained violence, sexual violence or domestic abuse. You may be a survivor of trauma through the loss of a loved one in traumatic circumstances, you may have witnessed trauma and have therefore been traumatised yourself. You may have been seriously injured or indeed threatened with death.
Symptoms of trauma can be incredibly destabilising, dehumanising, debilitating, frightening, shameful, fearful and horrific. You may feel as if you are losing control and going mad. Nightmares and flashbacks may occur frequently, involuntarily and apparently without cause. You may find that your body is affected involuntarily, you may freeze up, have an increased heart rate and palpations, sweat profusely, feel both hot and cold. Feel agitated, easily stressed or react in disproportionate ways to certain things.
You may suffer debilitating anxiety and panic attacks as if your body is stuck in the past’s traumatic events and there are difficulties with living in the present. You are not going mad and you can gain control over your experiences. Working with the symptoms you experience and finding ways of managing them are beneficial. In time coming to understand the triggers to your trauma, revisiting those experiences and gaining a sense of ownership over them, moving toward post traumatic growth, building on your own sense of self along the way and moving beyond plain survival to living fully.
You may find usual sexual relationships difficult, you may have problems in relationships. You may have developed an inner critique within yourself and have many negative attitudes and beliefs about your self and others. A world view that feels frightening and unsafe. You may feel shameful, blame your self, self harm and think of suicide. You may feel isolated and have difficulty in trusting others and managing everyday things.
Counselling for trauma follows a set of principles, it can be said that there are phases to the work and there are certain requirements needed from a therapist who works with this complex client issue. A therapist will need to engender the skills, attitudes and values of empathy, unconditional positive regard and respect. The counsellor creates an environment of hope and empowerment.
Alongside these the work will include facilitating safety, self care and the clients acquisition of skills that can help with grounding, gaining a sense of control over the traumatic feelings and sensations. In that, there are elements of psycho-education helping clients to understand more about what trauma is, normalising the symptoms in the context of trauma whilst preparing survivors for the therapeutic process. Thus helping to gain a sense of control over their recovery. It is a collaborative effort on behalf of both the counsellor and client. The client sets the pace of their therapy and that is respected. Creating a therapeutic relationship that is genuine can help clients feel secure which is a fulcrum of this work, helping to restore relational worth.
I work utilising a Humanistic integrative approach, this approach can be very useful for working with an individual’s unique experiences and finding ways that best fit them as a person in the therapeutic process, developing better skills, and new ways of relating to self and others. Change takes an amount of courage and tenacity and change is not easy but it can and it does occur.
It may well be beneficial to think about ways that you can best manage your problems and issues with your counsellor. Utilising a number of strategies, techniques or approaches. Working creatively can be invaluable and I invite you to work with various creative media, such as keeping a journal, creating pictures, creative writing, working with figures, objects and sand-tray work or experiment with new ways of being in the therapeutic session.
Justin Lee Slaughter is a psychotherapist and counsellor working in the UK. His details can be found on the Counselling Directory.