One of the greatest joys I have in my work is the privilege of helping clients piece the parts of themselves back together after a lifetime of brokenness.  Sometimes we find ourselves limping through relationships, work situations or family responsibilities.  It is typically problems in these areas that bring people into counseling.  For far too many, it doesn’t take long to discover the roots of these troubles as multiple incidences of abuse, betrayal, and/or neglect in the crucial early years of life.  American culture is rooted in a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.  Everywhere we turn, the general message is to put our heads down and push through whatever obstacles come our way, in order to achieve and succeed.  Add to that the fact that folks who come from hard places often spend at least early adulthood in survival mode.  They don’t have the luxury of examining their pain and learning from it – every day is about making sure there is food on the table, a roof over their heads and beating back the fear or depression that threatens to consume.  We tend to minimize our experiences – “it wasn’t that bad” – and we shy away from the word, “trauma”.  The reality is though that any life experience that presented a threat to life or health, which elicited significant fear or helplessness is a trauma.  If we are honest with ourselves, many of us have such an experience in our history…sometimes multiple.  The resources to obtain assistance for emotional needs are usually scarce in such a scenario.  Even for those with means, the general approach is to ignore the past and look ahead to the next job, relationship or location that will make all the difference.  Unfortunately, the body and mind remembers.  Early trauma sets into motion dysfunctional beliefs that carry through into adulthood.  It distorts view of self and as research is now discovering – it literally changes the way the brain develops.  The effects of significant childhood difficulties are multilayered and extend into every area of adult life – relationships, career, self concept, cognitive functioning, physical health, etc.  In order to live life to the fullest, these effects must be faced, grieved and overcome.  The problem is, this is a painful process that is almost impossible to complete alone.  Hence why so many folks live their entire lives never experiencing significant healing.

This doesn’t have to be our story.  Competent, compassionate counseling is one of the most effective ways to address this.  What does that look like?  It requires a counselor who understands the multilayered impact of trauma – how it affects every aspect of development: socially, emotionally, physically, cognitively and spiritually.  Wading into these waters with clients is difficult.  A counselor who has not learned to sit with their own pain, who has not thoroughly grieved their own traumas, will not be able to sustain themselves in this work.  They inevitably resort to techniques and interventions that promise a quick fix and allow them to stay distanced from your pain.  True healing requires an empathic, authentic connection which provides the comfort and safety needed to face the ugly.  This relationship is foundational.  From there, the process begins with creating safety: cataloging resources available to the client outside of counseling, identifying the warning signs of emotional overload, as well as teaching visualization and relaxation techniques that will be used throughout the work.  Unfortunately, this is a step that gets missed in some counseling encounters which go straight into unpacking traumatic experiences with no tools for the client to cope outside of sessions.  This is clearly a very dangerous approach which can inoculate clients against counseling forevermore.

Once the client has mastered the skills necessary to cope with what they are about to face, then we can begin to explore their story.  This can happen in a variety of ways: verbally, or through writing, art or other expressive methods.  Using a variety of modalities allows the client to access multiple aspects of their experience.  The therapist facilitates the safety needed to tell the story and helps the client connect the dots between their experience and resulting beliefs, behaviors, decisions, health symptoms, and attachment styles.  Losses are identified and grieving is encouraged and guided.  This alone brings a tremendous amount of emotional relief.  It also identifies core beliefs that have driven dysfunctional patterns.  With the insight gained, choices are made regarding what needs to change and thus begins improvement in relationships and thinking.  Throughout the process, physical health is monitored and addressed.  Trauma experiences, as well as trauma work has physiological consequences and so the therapist must be proactive in assessing this area and partnering with professionals who are competent in treating patients with traumatic histories.

It is likely obvious by now that this is a delicate, unpredictable process that cannot be rushed.  By the time we choose to seek this kind of counseling, we have typically been dealing with the effects of trauma for many, many years.  Addressing it completely then, will take some time.  Everyone’s coping skills level and emotional reservoir coming into the process is different and determines how long healing will take so there is no formula to be applied here.  If you find yourself struggling to manage your emotions, ‘zoning out’ a lot, dealing with chronic health issues, beating yourself up, or battling multiple relationship issues, there is likely a trauma connection.  Give us a call!

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