Healing from Trauma and Abuse
What is trauma?
From a psychological perspective, trauma is exposure to a traumatic event. A traumatic event is an extreme stressor that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury. Serious injury includes not only physical injury, but serious mental or emotional injury as well. Trauma typically leaves a person feeling powerless and helpless, with a desire to fight, take flight, or freeze (become immobilized).
What is abuse?
Whereas trauma may result from a natural disaster or accident, abuse is relational trauma. It may involve physical abuse, neglect (including abandonment, isolation, financial abuse of an elder, or failure to provide needed care for an elder of minor), physical or sexual assault, cruel and unjustifiable punishment, or sexual exploitation of a minor or dependent adult.
How do I know if I need help?
See a qualified professional if you were exposed to a traumatic event and are distressed by or having trouble recovering from any of the following symptoms:
- You have recurring intrusive recollections or nightmares about the trauma
- You feel or act as if you are reliving the trauma
- You feel distress and/or avoid anything that would remind you of the trauma
- You can’t recall important aspects of the trauma
- You feel cut off from others, lack emotion, feel numb and/or disinterested
- You can’t imagine having a normal future
- You have trouble sleeping
- You have trouble concentrating
- You are irritable, prone to angry outbursts, or jumpy
- You are hyper-vigilant (overly watchful) and fearful
In the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, seek professional help if:
- You are having difficulty recovering a sense of safety,
- You continue to feel aroused and anxious
- You feel you lack adequate support
- You are abusing alcohol or drugs
- You find it difficult to recover because of multiple stressors, a history of trauma, family instability, the intensity or duration of the traumatic event or the threat that the trauma will recur.
How can therapy help?
As a therapist specializing in trauma, I provide a safe place and a safe relationship in which the traumatized person can process the impact of the trauma. Processing this trauma response in a safe context decreases the fear associated with the trauma. Therapy can help restore your sense of inner safety and peace, and help you integrate painful memories in a way that is meaningful and life-giving for you. Therapy can also help improve your coping and stress reduction skills, empowering you for the future. When trauma results in nightmares and sleep disturbance, dream work such as Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT) can decrease both nightmares and post-traumatic distress (Krakow, 2007). EMDR (see the EMDR page) can help you process distressing memories so you can finally heal these inner wounds.
Why do I need a therapist who specializes in trauma?
Both clinical experience and research suggest that to do effective trauma therapy, a therapist needs to understand and be familiar with the psycho-physical, neuro-biological connection between the mind and the body and how this is impacted by trauma. I have specialized in trauma for many years and am committed to keeping abreast of the latest trauma research and techniques.
Much therapy is verbally oriented. This is problematic for a person recovering from trauma as, in the wake of trauma, the language and emotion centers of the brain may disconnect. This disconnection interferes with verbal processing of traumatic memory. Trauma reactions are experienced in the body. A trauma therapist must be able to work with the body, but without touching the body, as touch can trigger trauma responses in some trauma survivors. Trauma initiates physiological arousal. If a person is unable to feel safe, they will not be able to recover from this physiological arousal. Their system will become overwhelmed, depleted, and may, eventually, shut down (van der Kolk, 1996). It is my job to make therapy a safe place to work on trauma memory, rather than a place where the trauma is re-experienced.
I use mind-body techniques to reduce arousal, and restore a sense of safety. I teach clients how to process memories of the traumatic past while staying grounded in the present. One such technique is dual awareness, in which I coach my clients to stay in touch with the experiencing self in the present while using the observing self to process the feelings associated with the trauma (van der Kolk, et al, 1996; Rothschild, 2000). I use the eight step protocol of EMDR to help clients build inner resources and process disturbing memories so that the mind's natural healing power can restore a sense of health and well-being. But therapy is not just about recovering from the past. I work with clients on creative strategies to recover a sense of meaning, and empowerment so that they can live with peace in the present and with hope for the future.