What's different about trauma therapy?
Trauma: There are different types of trauma and to begin with, it is important to have a full assessment which may take several sessions. This will involve understanding how your trauma has affected you.
In brief, a type 1 trauma is a caused by a single trauma like a car accident, a mugging or a rape and the main symptoms will be fear based. This kind of trauma can usually be treated in a shorter time-span than complex traumas.
Type 2 traumas are when traumatic events have occurred over an extended period of time and include things like child abuse, torture or bullying. These traumas, when happening, would not have been avoidable other than through the brain doing some creative things to escape inwardly. This is a life saving ability... however, if the brain stays in that state after the trauma is over it leads to blocking ones life force, living from out-dated adaptive behaviours causing relationship breakdowns etc and not having the ability to discern real danger from safe situations.
Type 2 trauma symptoms that typically occur are anger, shame, grief and guilt.
Trauma therapy is different from 'normal' therapy in that the added understanding of trauma and its effects on the brain is vital in processing the trauma.
There are three parts of the brain that are particularly important: The hippocampus, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. In brief, the amygdala is like the alarm system, the hippocampus is the memory storage and the prefrontal cortex makes sense of things. When trauma happens the amygdala says there is danger and shuts the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex down because, for now, survival is all that is important. This is fine short term, if being chased by a lion for example, but if the brain stays in this state it causes problems, as stated above.
To process trauma we need to learn to allow the amygdala to experience some distress (so it can be processed), but while keeping the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex on line at the same time. This is a skill you will learn with your counsellor in therapy. I like the analogy of skiing: first we have to learn to do the snow plough (stop) before we open the skis and go downhill; but if we start going too fast we need to slow it down again (or we will crash!). This prevents the re-traumatisation that sadly is so common in therapies that do not understand the effects of trauma on the brain. To invite expression of feeling with no 'brakes' is not a good idea in trauma therapy!
After a full assessment you will learn safety and stabilisation strategies (learning to do the snow plough if you are familiar with skiing, putting on the brakes in other words), some ways of doing this could be: grounding the body, long breathing, mindfulness, anchoring, safe place visualisation, self care contract, NLP fast phobia technique, changing submodalities... and more. What works for one person is triggering for another so it's important to spend time finding what works to bring your distress levels down at will.
When you are ready to process the trauma a number of evidence based treatments to do so make this possible, these may include:
• IRRT (Imagery Rescripting and Reprocessing Therapy)
• NET (Narrative Exposure Therapy
• PET (Prolonged Exposure Therapy).
Amongst others. The key point in processing is to remember that avoidance keeps things stuck, so as anti intuitive as it may seem, allowing the feelings to process, is a necessary part of healing, as it allows the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex to take the distress from the amygdala and put it in the right places. Many people following trauma therapy say that although the memory of what happened is unpleasant, it is just a memory and no longer feels as though it is happening in the now.
Written by Vajralila
Related articles from our experts
- What happens when sudden grief strikes
Dr Chloe Paidoussis Mitchell, CPsychol, BPS Chartered Psychologist27th September, 2017
- Trauma and trigger
Penny Wright Registered MBACP2nd September, 2017
- A fictional story based on real world issues in Game of Thrones.
Toby Messer Ad Dip PC16th August, 2017
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.