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Healing From Trauma

Over the past two weeks we have looked at what exactly is trauma as well as all of the different ways it can impact our mind, body, and soul.  This week we'll look at what trauma recovery can look like in the therapy room. 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.  For anyone that struggles with anxiety, you probably know that anything that we can hold onto that gives us a sense of preparedness as well as a roadmap of what to expect when we're trying something new can be very helpful.  This is my goal in sharing what therapy looks like (at least in my office) for client's who are healing from trauma. 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 trauma have rarely if ever 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 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 help the client build a set of tools that they can use to ensure they are able to stick it out through the uncomfortable times. I also encourage all of my clients to have a voice and advocate for themselves during therapy.  I truly believe that each one of us has the ability to tap into our intuition and discover what we need in each moment of our day and this is no different in the therapy room.  If we push too quickly and try to bulldoze our emotions or parts of us that are hesitant to do this work, inevitably what ends up happening is we tend to not stick with the process or we'll start having other problematic symptoms.  This is our body and minds way of trying to get our attention and we always want to respect those signs and attend to them when they are present. Sometimes this can feel really hard to do because when we have finally gotten to a place where we're seeking therapy, we just want to hurry up and get through the process.  While this is completely understandable, similar to any other goal we have in life, it takes time, patience, and consistency to fully heal from trauma.  Reminding ourselves of this is vital. Stage Two: Processing the Trauma Once the client is feeling a bit more capable of coping with tough emotions or sensations and feels more at ease with the therapist, we begin to slowly start taking a look at the trauma. Specifically, we begin by looking at what this trauma led the person to believe about themselves, others, and the world around them.  This awareness is key to understanding how these same beliefs are negatively impacting the client's current life. Once the therapist has an idea of what those beliefs consist of and how they're showing up in present times, 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 recommend: Internal Family Systems EMDR Psychedelic Assisted Therapy 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 may be 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. Healing from trauma isn't just about symptom reduction, it is about reclaiming who you are and beginning to live in a fully integrated manner.  This can feel like a completely foreign concept if we've never experienced this before.  Sometimes things that feel new can cause some initial distress.  This is completely normal and important to be aware of as sometimes we can have old parts of us that try and push us back into what is familiar even if it's not what is best for us.  The good news is that the more you do this type of work and begin to live this way, it will become more and more difficult to return to old habits and patterns as you will no longer be able to deny the power of living authentically and fully healed from your trauma.