If you're reading this, it may be because you feel stuck in some way, perhaps you are having trouble recovering from trauma or you're possibly a health care worker on the brink of burnout or maybe you are worried about a friend. You may be feeling trapped, overwhelmed, even angry. You may be feeling nothing at all. Perhaps recent events (like a global Pandemic) have stirred up unsettling old memories, intensifying your struggle. Maybe you've even begun to wonder whether life will ever feel any better than this.
If this sounds familiar, please keep reading. This was written for you.
The truth is, we're all broken. And, we live in a broken world. Things seem to go from bad to worse and it can be easy to settle into despair and instead of choosing life. We just try to make it through each day and hold on till the next one. But it doesn't have to be this way.
Sometimes, we don't know what's wrong with us. We spend years going to doctors, therapists, pastors, knowing that something is wrong but unable to account for it. Not experiencing any improvement, we can sometimes even begin questioning our own sanity. But the symptoms aren't a result of something wrong with us. They're often the after effects of trauma. And once this is understood, it is possible to take real and meaningful steps toward healing.
By taking the time to read this, you're taking one important step toward freedom in your life. Trauma tempts us to hide ourselves in self-protection, but genuine healing comes through the context of safe relationships. I want you to know, one survivor to another, that there is real hope for a better future. And, you can experience life, joy, confidence, curiosity, playfulness and all the most important things again.
Sometimes, trauma is obvious—rape, natural disasters, unexpected death of a loved one. But other forms of trauma are sometimes more subtle—rejection or emotional abuse from an important person (mother, father, spouse...), one’s whole world changing (as with COVID-19), the feeling of helplessness when something terrible happens to someone we love, or cultural displacement, to name a few.
What makes something traumatic is not the event itself but rather a person’s experience of that event. The effects of trauma can manifest in a variety of ways, including biological, emotional, spiritual and relational symptoms. Below are just a few of the many symptoms that can result from trauma.
Some who have experienced trauma may struggle to explain what happened to them, because the part of their brain holding those memories is not the part associated with language. They may feel memories in the body but not be able to attach a story to them or to organize them contextually in time and space. These "feeling memories" often intrude in seemingly random patterns, making it difficult to separate the present from the past.
Talk Therapy & Trauma
You need to tell your story, right? Well, maybe . . . but not always. In fact, research shows that re-telling the details of a trauma story can often cause more harm than good. This is because the emotional brain can continue to respond to those details as though they are still happening rather than as an event in the past. Until memories are dealt with in a way the emotional brain can process, the feelings about what happened will remain the same.
The human brain is truly amazing! Different types of information (sensations, images, language, math facts, spatial ordering, time, stories,...etc) are stored all over the brain in different places. During traumatic experiences, the language part of the brain shuts down to allow the survival part of the brain to do what it needs to do to stay alive. Memories are stored in the brain as feelings and experiences. The result is that a person can know with one part of their brain that they are okay while a different part of their brain tells them that they are still in danger and must take action to keep themselves safe.
The thing is, with trauma treatment it’s not really about what happened. It's about what is happening now. It’s about what is happening for me today in light of what happened then. Healing is about becoming fully present to today. And for this reason, a more relational and experiential approach that targets the deep midbrain limbic system is preferable.
Current research on trauma and the brain has considerably changed the landscape of what is considered best practice. For example, it is now commonly understood that rehearsing the details of one’s trauma is not actually helpful. In fact, this usually only exacerbates the problem, creating further distress and re-traumatization. Instead, effective therapy focuses on the meaning a person makes of trauma, the feelings and thoughts that went with those negative experiences and how a person is responding to those same feelings and thoughts today.
As we have been discussing, trauma requires a different approach to therapy, an approach that targets the limbic system in the brain. What if we also changed the structure/boundaries of therapy and the relational component? What if healing from trauma felt more like a creative becoming and less like unavoidable torture or something you just have to get through? I believe that re-conceptualizing the trauma healing process as therapeutic coaching, re-structuring care into packages instead of individual sessions, and shifting the focus from trauma to future hope can help with this.
First, therapeutic coaching. Coaching allows for greater collaboration, flexibility, and creativity in the healing process. A coach encourages another person, with practical guidance, to persevere in something they are wanting to change or develop. Coaching allows space and time for growth to occur, with plenty of opportunity to get one's hands messy and learn by doing. And coaching allows clients to be the expert on their own lives, knowing what they uniquely need for growth and encouraging greater agency in the process.
Second, help provided in packages. Shifting expectations from paying for a therapist's time to investing in an outcome creates more hope and more genuine possibility from the very beginning. True healing happens across time, as new experiences arise and we have more opportunities to integrate and grow. Trauma healing packages can jumpstart this process making a significant difference in establishing a healthy trajectory. And, real tangible change can truly be experienced through working with a person's neurobiological system.
Third, shifting the focus from trauma to future hope. I have found that the most powerful and effective way of healing any kind of distress is to focus on growing the good in a person's life rather than rehearsing the bad. Joy is ultimately more powerful than Despair and if we can help a person to see real possibility and experience even a small taste of joy, we can build on that, creating a true and lasting hope. The treatments that I have chosen to use in my practice help people to shift their focus in this more solution oriented way.
I'm delighted to be able to combine my training and qualifications as a licensed therapist with the structures of coaching and the results it can offer. I provide sessions (in person and via telehealth) using Brainspotting, Trauma Informed Hypnotherapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy, and the Safe & Sound Protocol. You can learn more about each of these highly effective and evidence based treatments HERE.
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