The Role of Therapy in Treating Trauma: What to Expect
We know now that trauma is not a thing that happened to you, of course it’s likely something did happen to you. However, defined by Gabor Mate, trauma is what happens inside you because of what happened to you. This can only mean the cause of your trauma is personal to you, and may not have been the big dramatic thing that you feel it should have been. Many people experience trauma today through horrific events of the past. However, it is valid to experience trauma through something that on paper may seem insignificant.
Trauma occurs after a situation in which you felt out of control and your life was at threat (because children experience the world differently to adults, you can still have trauma even if your life wasn’t actually at threat).
If you’re experiencing trauma, you may feel hypervigilant, always on guard with a sense of hopelessness and/or anxiety. New situations may feel unsettling, and you might feel reluctant to try anything new – especially avoiding anything that resembles the traumatic incident in any way. Living in a body that’s primed, always ready to flee or fight is uncomfortable. In addition, you may feel your identity slipping away, as your personality and values are constantly squashed by your fight flight response.
There is the possibility that you do not remember the event/s fully or at all. Part of your brain’s lifesaving response is to dissociate in life threatening situations. Dissociation happens when you cannot fight or flee, so you freeze. This natural, psychological process disconnects you from your surroundings, thoughts, feelings, and memories to prevent distress. Dissociation can cause you to completely forget the experience or jumble the memories, so they do not make sense.
Dissociation during a traumatic event stops you processing the experience fully. If your traumatic experience/s happened during childhood when your brain was still developing (which it does until around age 25), it may develop to learn that dissociation is the way to deal with stressful situations. Because of this, dissociation may become your brain’s default way to cope with life. Some common symptoms of dissociation include:
- Feeling disconnected from your surroundings or body.
- A dysregulated sense of time, it feels like it’s passing slowly or quickly.
- Seeing life in a dream-like state or in a fog.
- Feeling detached from your emotions or memories.
- Experiencing memory gaps or amnesia.
- Feeling like no one is experiencing the world in the same way as you.
- Feeling like you are outside your body or watching yourself from a distance.
Therapy for Trauma
The role of therapy in treating trauma is essential, because it provides a safe space for you to discuss your experiences and feelings, helping you process your emotions in a healthy way. Therapy can also provide you with tools to manage your symptoms and develop coping mechanisms for your triggers.
Trust is an essential part of therapy for trauma. When you first begin therapy, you may feel nervous or unsure of what to expect. A trauma informed therapist will work to establish trust and build a therapeutic relationship that allows open and honest communication. It’s important to note that therapy, especially hypnotherapy, is not a quick fix for trauma. The healing process can be a long and challenging journey, with possible setbacks along the way.
The first few sessions with me will involve discussing your history, including any traumatic events you remember and feel comfortable sharing, alongside how they have impacted your life. I’ll ask a lot of questions to build a relationship, fully understand your life, and personalise my approach to your specific needs.
Piecing together the Puzzle
Not all therapists agree that talking through traumatic experiences is necessary or beneficial. More relevant is processing the feelings that link to the trauma, and learning or relearning how to ‘stay in your body’ and feel comfortable with whatever feelings arise. Essentially giving yourself permission to feel. However, for some people, the disjointed memories feel confusing. Having a safe space to talk through things, with someone who will simply hold the space rather than give advice or opinion, is paramount to recovery. By talking through your experiences with someone you trust, in an environment that feels comfortable enough for you to express any feeling or emotion – no matter how great – you can piece things together, so your life starts to make sense.
Techniques to feel comfortable with life.
As part of your healing journey, your therapist will give you techniques to use every day to help you feel more relaxed about life and new experiences. As previously mentioned, trauma leaves many people stuck in the fight, flight or freeze states. This presents differently in everyone, but it’s uncomfortable and holds you back. With the help of your therapist, you’ll have ways to face your fears and feel stronger than your triggers, so you can enjoy life the way you deserve.