Freedom From the Effects of Trauma
Posted: September 29, 2018
It is very common for people to feel anxious or apprehensive about going to therapy. By the time my clients find themselves in my office, this anxiety may have delayed them for years in giving themselves permission to ask for help. If they have never been to a therapist before they are probably wondering what exactly happens in the therapy room and what makes trauma recovery different from other types of therapy? THE THREE STAGES OF TRAUMA RECOVERY Stage One: Trust Building and Increasing Distress Tolerance In graduate school, therapists learn about this term “joining.” Joining refers to meeting your client where they’re at and connecting with them in such a way that they feel supported, validated, and comfortable in sharing different aspects of themselves. While this is something that ideally occurs from the very first session, it does not end there. Joining eventually turns into the cultivation of a therapeutic relationship. While this therapeutic relationship is a vital part of all therapy to be successful, regardless of what clients are seeking help with, an even greater focus is placed on it in trauma recovery. Why exactly is this the case? The majority of clients I work with who have suffered from childhood trauma have never experienced a healthy relationship with another human being. Therefore, it is extremely difficult for them to trust others. This is exactly why this type of therapy can take quite some time. It would be completely unreasonable to expect someone who has been hurt by others to come into a therapy session and feel comfortable discussing their past right off the bat. This is exactly why the beginning stages of therapy during trauma recovery also focus significantly on developing a mindfulness practice. Whether it’s deep breathing, guided imagery, or journaling, the ultimate goal is to increase a client’s ability to tolerate distress while also learning to trust the therapist during this initial stage. Stage Two: Processing the Trauma Once this distress tolerance has increased and the client feels more at ease with the therapist, we begin to slowly start taking a look at the past. Specifically, we begin by looking at a person’s earliest memories of their relationships with their primary caregivers. Why is this important? How a person views themselves, others, and the world around them is significantly impacted by those early relationships. If a person’s childhood experiences have taught them that others are dangerous, unsupportive, or untrustworthy, they will continue to believe this unless they are led to believe otherwise. Once the therapist has an idea of what the client’s childhood was like, we can begin to process some of those past traumatic memories. As you can imagine, having to think about past trauma can be incredibly scary and painful. Therefore, we make sure to go slow in order to avoid overwhelming the client. This “processing” can be done through a variety of ways and each therapist has their favorites. For those that are interested in reading more about some of the ones I use they include: Internal Family Systems EMDR Narrative story telling Stage Three: Maintenance and Empowerment Once a person has successfully processed their trauma and has noticed a significant decrease in their original symptoms, we begin stage three. Primarily, we focus on reinforcing the new-found discovery that the trauma is in the past and no longer a present day threat. This reinforcement really paves the way for clients to start exploring who they are and what they want in life. This is often the first time in these individuals lives that they have been asked these question and given the space to honor their wants and needs. This push towards authenticity allows the client to not only develop a healthy relationship with themselves but also begin to form healthy relationships with others. As the saying goes, you cannot give to others until you have given to yourself. I hope this series on trauma recovery has been helpful and given you some new insight into this topic. My next series of blog posts will focus on issues specifically related to couples who are struggling with betrayal recovery.