If you have had a traumatic event in your life that lingers long after it has happened, the role of a psychologist or counsellor is to listen to and believe what you have to say. To build a trusting reliable relationship with you.
Their role is to provide you with ways of managing how your brain and body reacts to all this.
After all, we can’t go back and change the things that have happened, but we can change how we manage triggers and symptoms, how we relate to certain people, and what decisions to make right now to protect us and help us in the future.
We can name it as trauma when the memory, the smell, the sound, the feel, the taste, the sights and sensations linger long after the event. What is traumatic for one may not be traumatic for another. There is no judgement here. What can bring back the memory is a trigger, and triggers are very real and not to be diminished as to their impact. This impact can cause us to suffer long after the event, and sometimes even increase in intensity. Our job as counsellors is to validate every memory and sensation that you experience – that is our starting point.”
What Trauma Counselling Involves
As counsellors, our role is to be interested and engaged in your story. But more importantly, we are engaged and interested in you as a person. We areinterested in where you are coming from, how you are feeling and thinking at this point in time, and where you want to be by the end of counselling. Some of the stories and journeys can be harrowing, but we do it together.
All of the information we need to survive arrives to us through our 5 senses. It makes sense that any new learning to help us regulate how we think and feel, will also arrive through our 5 senses.
There are three ways we react when we experience trauma – two are flight and fight. Both require us to “gear up” and remain hypervigilant. These symptoms can last long after the event.
The third way is to go into a trance-like state as if we are not there but somewhere else. Remember Harry Potter and the cupboard under the stairs?
The cupboard was very small, containing only a bed. It was always full of spiders. The Dursleys often punished Harry by locking him in his cupboard for days.”
from The Harry Potter Lexicon.
These are good conditions for the mind to dissociate – when old parts of the brain try to stop us sensing, distancing us from the body and limiting our perception. It is as though our brain does this automatically, to protect us from the fear and danger we are in.
In therapy, we can look at your needs, and make plans…
Ensuring Your Safety
Our most important concern is that you are currently safe in your physical environment. That is, safe from others, safe toward others, safe to self. This is called a risk assessment.
If you are not feeling safe in these areas, we look at a safety plan. It is common for your therapist to working with teams such as GP’s, mental health teams and 1800 numbers that can be accessed 24/7, to provide round the clock support if needed.
Medication is also sometimes required to assist us manage our sleep and other symptoms – there is nothing wrong with that! The important thing is that you are on the medication that suits you.
What things can I take away to assist me to cope and make meaning out of my experiences?
What does trauma-informed practice look like? Once we can establish safety, we do a Needs Assessment. What areas do you need help with after suffering trauma?
In grief counselling, this may be making sense of the loss and being able to express love and longing for our loved one who is very much present in our memory, but absent physically. If we have cared greatly for another, we may look for them in cafes, in military displays or places people congregate, thinking we may have seen them.
For those who have been through war or experienced accidents associated with loud noise and danger, it can be a process of psychological support and desensitization regarding certain noise levels and experiences of feeling unsafe.
If we have suffered abuse and neglect, we may dissociate when we experience triggers such as a smell, a shadow, a place.
Learning techniques such as calming, grounding, self-soothing, regulating our emotions, confusing triggers with different stimuli, learning to meditate and learning mindfulness, as well as building support networks can help with our triggers.
In DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) and CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) we can learn new ways of thinking and managing our emotions. It can involve material comforts and learning new ways of interacting with family members. We can plan and create new memories for anniversaries that would otherwise be extremely challenging.
It can be about learning new assertiveness skills, and managing toxic conversations and relationships.
It can be about learning to be better parents, and not to project all our fears and anxieties on to another generation.
It is about getting off the guilt/ anxiety/ fear of failure train and hopping on to the train going somewhere worthwhile.
It is about moving from noisy negative automatic thoughts to learning new coping strategies with positive outcomes.
It is about having choices and taking our life back again piece by piece. It is about building hope. This is where the train stops!
Author: Vision Psychology
- Trauma is Really Strange by Steve Haines (Singing Dragon London 2016).
- The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk (Random House, UK, 2014).
- Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan (1993, Guilford Press, New York)
- Stoicism and Vicarious Trauma: An exploration of ancient wisdom’s relevance for modern times © 2018 Ruth Crowley Brown
- Suicide Prevention and Recovery Guide: A resource for mental health professionals 2nd edition (reprint) isbn 978-1-921837-11-1 © SANE Australia, 2014
- Training in Advanced Focussed Psychological Strategies AASW Workshop 2019, Brisbane.