Trauma Counselling helps you to identify and come to terms with feelings and emotions you may experience during or after a traumatic event. These emotions will vary from individual to individual. Trauma can involve single incidents such as a rape, car accident, witnessing a robbery or being involved in a natural disaster. Trauma can also be repeated and enduring emotional distress over a long period of time such as childhood neglect.
There are many trauma counselling models and they all have the same primary objectives: To resource you and help you get your life back on track. In time you will be able to move from simply surviving, which often involves hardship and struggle to living and eventually being able to thrive.
Trauma Counselling can help you with the following:
- Help you to understand your coping mechanisms;
- Validate your feelings and emotions;
- Stop using suppression and avoidance as a form of defence;
- Help you to make sense of what has happened to you;
- Integrate the event meaningfully into your life.
- Begin to live in the present rather than constantly being retriggered by the past.
Unlike traditional counselling and therapy, trauma counselling is more long term therapy and needs to progress in a safe and slow way. With trauma counselling we “need to move forward with the brakes on”. This ensures that you do not end up even more overwhelmed than when you started by working too quickly.
What happens in our brains and nervous system after trauma will vary from individual to individual. A well informed Trauma Therapist will know how to work with you to help heal your trauma. It is not a one size fits all solution.
What is Trauma?
Many people don’t really understand what it means to suffer from trauma. It is often a misunderstood concept where people believe to be “traumatised” you have must experience or witness an extreme event such as rape, sexual assault, a car accident, armed hold up, domestic violence, war or natural disaster.
While extreme events such as those mentioned above can lead to being “traumatised” or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) other overwhelming experiences such as bullying, public ridicule, repeated distress in childhood and neglect, inconsistent caregiving, harsh criticism by parents or teachers, emotional or verbal abuse may also leave you feeling threatened or harmed in some way. Such experiences can leave you with negative emotions such as helplessness, powerlessness, anxiety, depression, anger or rage. Your body and brain treats these experiences in the same way as the body and brain of someone who has been raped.
Two people can go through the exact same experience and be impacted in different ways. Trauma impacts different people in different ways. It is also important what happens after a traumatic incident or event as to what the likely impacts may be. For example, if a woman is raped and she receives appropriate treatment and trauma counselling after the rape and feels supported and cared for by those around her, there is less chance the traumatic impacts will be long lasting. In contrast a child who was relentlessly bullied at school and parents and teachers ignored the impacts of the bullying, this child may grow up to suffer with depression, low self worth or turn to substance abuse in order to cope with overwhelming emotions.
What happens in your body and brain when you are traumatised?
Most of the time your body routinely manages new information and experiences and you are not even aware of it. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and you are traumatised by an overwhelming event or by being repeatedly subjected to distress your natural coping mechanism can become overloaded. Chemicals including adrenaline and cortisol are generated by the nervous system, leading our brains to encode the emotional and bodily reactions at the time of the event, with a stronger emotional charge than any other everyday event.
This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain or being “unprocessed”. Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of your brain in a “raw” and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode. The limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network, associated with emotions and physical sensations, and are disconnected from the brain’s cortex where we use language to store memories.
The limbic system’s traumatic memories can be continually triggered when you experience events similar to the difficult experiences you have been through. Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present. Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited.
What are the symptoms of emotional and psychological trauma?
Following a traumatic event, or repeated trauma, people react in different ways, experiencing a wide range of physical and emotional reactions. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to think, feel, or respond to trauma, so don’t judge your own reactions or those of other people. Your responses are NORMAL reactions to ABNORMAL events.
Emotional and psychological symptoms of trauma:
- Shock, denial, or disbelief
- Anger, rage, irritability, mood swings
- Guilt, shame, self-blame
- Feeling sad, hopeless or despairing
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety and fear
- Withdrawing from others
- Feeling disconnected or numb
- Emotional overwhelm
Physical symptoms of trauma:
- Insomnia or nightmares
- Being startled easily
- Racing heartbeat
- Aches and pains
- Difficulty concentrating
- Edginess and agitation
- Muscle tension
These symptoms and feelings typically last from a few days to a few months, gradually fading as you process the trauma. But even when you’re feeling better, you may be troubled from time to time by painful memories or emotions—especially in response to triggers such as an anniversary of the event or an image, sound, or situation that reminds you of the traumatic experience.
Grieving is normal following trauma
Whether or not a traumatic event involves death, survivors must cope with the loss, at least temporarily, of their sense of safety and security. The natural reaction to this loss is grief. Like people who have lost a loved one, trauma survivors go through a grieving process. This process, while inherently painful, is easier if you turn to others for support, take care of yourself, and talk about how you feel.
When to seek professional help for emotional or psychological trauma
Recovering from a traumatic event takes time, and everyone heals at his or her own pace. But if months have passed and your symptoms aren’t letting up, you may need professional help from a trauma expert.
Seeking help for emotional or psychological trauma
- Having trouble functioning at home or work
- Suffering from severe fear, anxiety, or depression
- Unable to form close, satisfying relationships
- Experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
- Avoiding more and more things that remind you of the trauma
- Emotionally numb and disconnected from others
- Using alcohol or drugs to feel better
Finding a trauma specialist
Working through trauma can be scary, painful, and potentially retraumatizing. Because of the risk of retraumatization, this healing work is best done with the help of an experienced trauma specialist.
Finding the right therapist may take some time. It’s very important that the therapist you choose has experience treating trauma. But the quality of the relationship with your therapist is equally important. Choose a trauma specialist you feel comfortable with. Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel safe, respected, or understood, find another therapist. There should be a sense of trust and warmth between you and your trauma therapist.
After meeting a potential trauma therapist, ask yourself these questions:
- Did you feel comfortable discussing your problems with the therapist?
- Did you feel like the therapist understood what you were talking about?
- Were your concerns taken seriously or were they minimized or dismissed?
- Were you treated with compassion and respect?
- Do you believe that you could grow to trust the therapist?
Treatment for psychological and emotional trauma
In order to heal from psychological and emotional trauma, you must face and resolve the unbearable feelings and memories you’ve long avoided. Otherwise they will return again and again, unbidden and uncontrollable.
Trauma treatment and healing involves:
- Processing trauma-related memories and feelings
- Discharging pent-up “fight-or-flight-or freeze” energy
- Learning how to regulate strong emotions
- Building or rebuilding the ability to trust other people
Trauma therapy treatment approaches
Trauma disrupts the body’s natural equilibrium, freezing you in a state of hyperarousal and fear. In essence, your nervous system gets stuck in overdrive. Successful trauma treatment must address this imbalance and reestablish your physical sense of safety. The following therapies are commonly used in the treatment of emotional and psychological trauma:
- Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) is a method that integrates sensorimotor (body) processing with cognitive (thinking) and emotional (feeling) processing in the treatment of trauma. The integration of all three levels of processing is essential for recovery to occur. SP directly treats the effects of trauma on the body, which in turn facilitates emotional and cognitive processing. This method is especially beneficial for clients with issues of dissociation, who react strongly on an emotional level, feel depressed, unmotivated and flat, feel frozen in their emotions or reach highly agitated states quickly and often. SP can also help with PTSD symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive images, sounds, smells, body sensations, physical pain, constriction, numbing and hyperarousal.SP is a very gentle form of therapy and is therefore especially effective for survivors of childhood trauma.
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) incorporates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy with eye movements or other forms of rhythmic, left-right stimulation. These back-and-forth eye movements are thought to work by “unfreezing” traumatic memories, allowing you to resolve them.
- Brainspotting is a powerful, focused treatment method that works by identifying, processing and releasing core neurophysiological sources of emotional/body pain, trauma, dissociation and a variety of other challenging symptoms. Brainspotting is a simultaneous form of diagnosis and treatment, enhanced with Biolateral sound, which is deep, direct, and powerful yet focused and containing. It can be helpful when used in addition to a body-based therapy such as sensorimotor psychotherapy.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
After a traumatic experience, it’s normal to feel frightened, sad, anxious, and disconnected. Usually, with time, the upset fades and you start to enjoy life again. But sometimes the trauma is so overwhelming that you find that you can’t move on. You feel stuck with a constant sense of danger and painful memories that don’t fade.
If you went through a traumatic experience and are having trouble getting back to your regular life, reconnecting to others, and feeling safe again, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With PTSD, it can seem like you’ll never get over what happened or feel normal again. But by seeking treatment, reaching out for support, and developing new coping skills, you can overcome the symptoms of PTSD and move on with your life.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following a traumatic event that threatens your safety or makes you feel helpless.
Most people associate PTSD with battle-scarred soldiers—and military combat is the most common cause in men—but any overwhelming life experience can trigger PTSD, especially if the event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect those who personally experience the catastrophe, those who witness it, and those who pick up the pieces afterwards, including emergency workers and law enforcement officers. It can even occur in the friends or family members of those who went through the actual trauma.
PTSD develops differently from person to person. While the symptoms of PTSD most commonly develop in the hours or days following the traumatic event, it can sometimes take weeks, months, or even years before they appear.