“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
What is Trauma?
It is common to think about trauma as big dramatic occurrences such as war, a car crash, sexual abuse, rape (Big T trauma) however a more accurate definition of trauma could be ‘anything that overwhelms the mind and body’.
Big T trauma:
A single incident where you were afraid for your life or physical safety such as rape, car crash or a violent assault.
An ongoing situation where you felt helpless to get away, such as sexual abuse or domestic violence.
The trauma of oppression i.e. the mental and emotional injury caused by the intentional disadvantaging of groups of people based on their identity (gender, race, class, sexual orientation, language, etc.).
Developmental trauma (sometimes called relational or attachment trauma) as a result of abandonment, abuse, and neglect during early childhood. Developental trauma can also be caused by chronic misattunement from the most well meaning of parents, or the result of having a parent with an undiagnosed mental health problem.
If our bodies and minds are unable to recover from the effects of trauma (or it is ongoing), we may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of PTSD will vary depending on the type of trauma you experienced. A single incident can lead to type 1 PTSD. In recent years, I am happy to see that the world has become much more trauma-informed. There is increasing recognition of the psychological impact of prolonged, recurrent and often interpersonal trauma, such as psychological, sexual or physical abuse in childhood, or chronic partner violence in adulthood. This type of trauma has been termed Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) or, when in childhood, developmental trauma
Treatment for Big T Trauma and PTSD
When I initially trained I was taught the three phase model of treatment (below). Although this is a useful framework, emotional work is not a linear process and working with trauma is tailored to the individual rather than to a model. Working as an AEDP therapist, trauma work is more organic – i.e. we work with what presents in the moment. It is, however, useful to understand the different stages of trauma recovery.
Phase 1 – Safety and Stabilisation
Trauma leaves us feeling unsafe in our bodies and in relationship with others. This can lead to difficulty regulating emotions and feeling numb or overwhelmed. Regaining a sense of safety may take a few sessions, a few months or even longer depending on the type of trauma. Our therapeutic relationship will provide a safe and sturdy base to start exploring the effects of trauma in your mind and body. I will teach you exercises and techniques to help you feel safer in your body and feel more in control of your thoughts and emotions. This phase of the treatment can also include working with horses.
Phase 2 – Trauma Memory Processing
This phase is also called Remembrance and Mourning. This involves the important task of exploring and mourning the losses associated with the trauma. This processing helps you make sense of the traumatic experience so you can integrate it rather than react to it in a fight, flight or freeze response. Processing techniques can include talking about the trauma, reimagining the trauma, writing about the trauma, and noticing and exploring the effects of trauma in the body and helping it to release.
Phase 3 – Reconnection and Integration
In this phase you move from surviving to thriving. You create a new sense of self and a new vision of your future by knowing who and what is meaningful to you. The trauma becomes integrated into your life story but is not the only thing that defines you. This stage of the treatment can involve talking, writing and may include some work with horses.
“Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
Small t trauma
Not every trauma is dramatic, life threatening or a Big T trauma. We all experience many small t traumas. A little t event is one experienced as traumatic at a personal level, such as the loss of a pet or a relationship, difficulties with friendships at school etc Although small t traumas are often more common experiences, the emotional impact can be significant and the wounds as long lasting and impactful as Big T trauma.
I would argue that being a human being in the world we live in is inherently traumatic.
Small t traumas tend to create unhelpful beliefs about life. These may be beliefs about ourselves, e.g.’ I’m not pretty enough’ or beliefs about others e.g. ‘People will hurt you if they see who you really are’. Often these beliefs came from other people in authority such as parents, teachers, bosses.
I work with small t traumas to help you uncover the origin of the beliefs, discover your wise and compassionate loving adult self and make new choices based on your truth. The core of this work is learning to love and accept yourself as you are.
Emotional Freedom Technique and Matrix Reimprinting
Emotional Freedom Techniques or EFT is a powerful treatment and self-help method that uses fingertip tapping on acupuncture points. Clinical trials have shown that EFT tapping is able to rapidly reduce the emotional impact of memories and incidents that trigger emotional distress. Once the distress is reduced or removed, the body can often rebalance itself, and accelerate healing.
EFT uses elements of Cognitive Therapy and Exposure Therapy, and combines them with Acupressure. A number of clinical trials have demonstrated that EFT is effective for phobias, anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, pain, and other problems.
Matrix Reimprinting is a technique based on EFT developed by Karl Dawson, EFT Master, that connects people with their past traumas and core beliefs and helps transform them.
I occasionally use EFT and Matrix Reimprinting techniques as part of the treatment.