Trauma Therapy

Traumatic events involve a single experience, or set of enduring conditions, that are life threatening (subjectively) and completely overwhelm a person’s ability to cope or integrate the ideas and feelings in that experience. Common elements of the event are that it was unexpected, the person was unprepared and that they could do nothing to stop it happening.

Some of these are a one-off event such as accidents, natural disasters, physical or sexual assault, rape, acts of terrorism, sudden or traumatic bereavement, medical interventions and diagnosis etc. Some people experience multiple one-off events throughout their lives and some people experience complex traumas that are endured for years like physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect, and domestic violence.

Whilst it is life threatening events that are most likely to lead to a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) not all traumatic events involve a threat to life. Some people experience events or circumstances that whilst not life threatening are very traumatic to them, damaging their sense of self and feelings of safety, impacting on their relationships and altering their view of the the world around them. Whilst these people may not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD, they are very likely to be experiencing symptoms that we associate with PTSD and that are having a big impact on their life.

Some people can start to experience trauma symptoms by being repeatedly exposed to other people’s trauma, hearing stories of traumatic events or exposure to difficult and disturbing images. It is often termed secondary traumatic stress or vicarious trauma and can occur in professionals who work in high stress and trauma exposed fields (paramedics, police, social workers, therapists etc). It can also happen outside of a professional capacity when a person is deeply impacted by hearing details of a traumatic event that happened to a friend or a loved one.

Whilst traumatic experiences and how people respond to them can vary widely, what they all have in common is that it can be very difficult for our nervous systems to process the trauma and put it in the past. Put simply our brain and bodies continue to react as if the danger is still happening.

Bessel Van Der Kolk, who is a world-renowned expert on trauma puts it like this;

“After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system that has an altered perception of safety and risk”.

Symptoms of Trauma

  • Hypervigilance
  • Flashbacks
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Depression and loss of interest
  • Emotional overwhelm
  • Feeling mistrustful
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Few or no memories
  • Insomnia, nightmares and sleep disturbance
  • Angry outbursts
  • Feeling numb and spaced out and/or like things aren’t real
  • Shame, self-blame and guilt
  • Self-destructive behaviour
  • Using drugs, alcohol, self-harm as a form of numbing
  • Disordered eating
  • Chronic pain and health issues

Complex Trauma

Complex Trauma describes both children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events – often of an invasive, interpersonal nature- and the wide ranging, long term effects of this exposure. These events are severe and pervasive, such as abuse or profound neglect. They usually occur in early life and can disrupt many aspects of the child’s development and sense of self. Since these events often occur with a caregiver, they interfere with the child’s ability to form a secure attachment. Many aspects of a child’s healthy physical and mental development rely on this primary source of safety and stability (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network)

As adults, children who have these kinds of experiences may or may not go on to meet the criteria for complex PTSD. Regardless of diagnosis, these early adverse life experiences can cause significant distress and impact on many areas of a persons life.

Not all people who have experienced complex trauma have had childhood adversity that impacted on their development when they were young, but they have had equally damaging experiences of relationships with others that changed catastrophically their view of themselves, other people and the wider world.

If you have a history of complex trauma you may experience;

Difficulty controlling your emotions

Feel very angry and mistrustful of people and the world around you

Feel empty or hopeless

Feel that you are permanently damaged

Find relationships very difficult

Experience dissociative symptoms; feeling disconnected from yourself and the world around you, forgetting periods of time, events, personal information etc

Physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, chest pain and stomach aches that have no known medical cause.

If you are a person who has experienced trauma, I know it can be scary to take that first step to reach out to another person to start your journey of personal healing. It’s also important to know that re-telling your story in detail isn’t always necessary and for some people can be unhelpful. If that feels like a relief, or the idea of telling the story is what stops you from coming for therapy, then there are many ways to work with trauma without having to recount all the details. Processing your trauma memories may or may not be something you wish to do further down the line. Many people feel their therapy is complete once the trauma symptoms in day-to-day life are improved. For others, processing specific trauma memories feels like an important part of their healing. Either way we will work together to ensure that trauma therapy is a safe experience that doesn’t become overwhelming or re-traumatising.

I integrate a variety of different interventions and training when working with trauma uniquely tailored to what feels right for you, such as; EMDR Therapy, Trauma Aware Yoga and Mindfulness, Somatic (body) approaches, and Psychosocial Education on the impact of Trauma on the nervous system. This to helps you discover how your nervous system works and discover what helps you to regulate your system, reducing the symptoms you experience. The key thing is choice. You have complete freedom to choose which approaches work and feel good for you.

“If we consider that helplessness and isolation are the core experiences of trauma then power and reconnections are the core experiences of recovery” – Judith Herman.