As someone who believes it is crucial for all humans to understand our weaknesses, I will be the first to admit I am terrible with technology. However, I have proudly mastered Instagram, and follow all kinds of therapy pages (what can I say, I love my job!). One of my favorite Instagrammers, @mindfulmft, shared @gaytherapy’s post above that stopped me right in my scrolling tracks. This post is the perfect summation of the new level of understanding in the impact of trauma that I’ve gained since completing basic training in EMDR.
WHAT IS TRAUMA?
First, Merriam Webster (2019) defines trauma as “an injury (such as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent…a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury”. On the post, @gaytherapy describes trauma as being:
…held in the nervous system until it is addressed and healed. When we go through something that completely overwhelms our system - when our typical fight or flight responses are not enough - our body protects us by going into freeze. And we can stay stuck in that freeze state for months, years, or decades. Though we may function in the world, there is a part of us which still believes that we are in the trauma, that everything is still at risk, that we are not safe, that we are going to die. Our nervous system is still frozen in that moment of terror/humiliation/shock/helplessness, or whatever it was that we were feeling at that traumatic moment. Our bodies will stay in this state until the trauma is addressed and processed through to completion.
Wow. Let that sink in for a moment…
There is no denying the extensive impact that a traumatic event leaves upon an individual. For me, a trauma is anything that leaves a clear marker in the timeline of someone’s life. For example, “before the accident I was so carefree”, or “after she died I became such an anxious person”. Examples of trauma are on a spectrum, ranging from divorce, injury or illness, on the job experiences for first responders, death, domestic violence, sexual assault, and more. With just these few examples, it is safe to say that we all know someone who has experienced a trauma, and we may have even experienced a trauma ourselves. The PTSD Alliance (2016) reports that “an estimated 70 percent of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives and up to 20 percent of these people go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD”.
HOW CAN A THERAPIST HELP WITH TRAUMA?
Due to the complex nature of trauma, the therapeutic journey will vary from person to person; as some treatment methods are more appropriate for some people than others. Trauma therapy is heavy work, and because of that, people may find that they feel a little worse before they feel better. Feeling a little worse during trauma work is actually great news! I personally view it as a sign that you are working through exactly what needs to be worked through, thats why it feels like a challenge! Persevering through the initial challenges of trauma work is so worth the reward of processed trauma, and a restored sense of peace.
First and foremost, our work will be focused on creating a safe space — both in and out of my office — where an individual can find a feeling of calmness. The idea behind this is, the more calm a person feels, the less intensely they will feel the not so great feelings, such as anxiety and/or flashbacks while processing the trauma in the later stages of our work. After establishing the foundation, we will then begin to process the trauma. For example, this can be done through creating a narrative about the trauma, as per the guidelines of Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), or using bilateral stimulation and eye movements, as per the guidelines of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, just to name two methods. Regardless of the processing method that is chosen, it is important to remember that you are in control of your trauma work. We will work at a pace that feels comfortable to you, and at any point it becomes too much, say so! You are in control.