Counselling support in releasing physical trauma

Our bodies are often aware of trauma more quickly than our brains might choose to accept. Counselling can support us in recognising this and taking positive actions. It's important to also recognise how our unique protected characteristics affect our experiences, our self-esteem and how we show up in the world. An intersectional therapist will take this into account.


A client case study - physical trauma symptoms

A client presented with chronic migraine. She was in her early 30s, a bisexual woman, a parent to young children, from a working-class background, and working as a senior corporate professional. She worked full-time and also wrote and performed comedy in the evenings across London.

The client had not had a day off in months. Her coping mechanisms involved drinking alcohol and in her words, "external validation". She was a self-confessed overachiever and described feeling afraid to stop and undeserving of rest.

She had recently found out during a typically busy week that her closest friend had a life-threatening illness. The client was upset but felt under pressure from work and continued to commit to her busy schedule until she could see her friend that weekend.
Shortly after that, the client began to experience daily migraines. Despite the pain of the migraines, the client worked through them, against the advice of her GP.

Understanding the client

In the client's background was sexual assault, and several patriarchal narratives of shame and judgement from childhood to adulthood, relating to her gender, class and sexuality. The client recognised the madonna/whore complex in her idea that she had to overcompensate because she was not viewed externally as a "good" or "chaste" type of woman. She did not in her mind feel deserving of time to stop for physical recuperation or to process her grief.

For this client, an intersectional, psychodynamic counselling approach was necessary to understand how her past and present experiences fed into her adaptive responses. The client gradually worked through her shame which was making it difficult for her to give herself the break she needed to both heal physically and make space for her grief.

Mental and physical changes

The trauma was able to leave the client's body when she gave herself time to stop and process. This came after she took a relaxing holiday, started developing a less packed schedule and having counselling. The client actively searched for a professional person who was able to hold space for parts of her she hadn't been able to bring to the therapy room previously. As well as improved self-esteem, she began to notice the migraines decreasing as she articulated her feelings and checked in regularly with shaming inner dialogue. When the migraines did occasionally occur, she was able to rest and practice self-care appropriately until they passed.

Perspective shifting through creative writing

This client was me, several years ago, and prior to becoming a psychotherapeutic counsellor. This positive experience was part of my inspiration to train in this profession and support clients.

The above case study was written as part of a creative therapy exercise of switching pronouns and perspectives for an alternative view of an issue being experienced. This can help create distance and an objective picture of areas a client might be working on in therapy.

If you would like to find out more about how psychotherapeutic counselling using creative writing could support you in your personal journey, please get in touch for a free call via my Counselling Directory profile below.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, England, E3
Written by Ellie Rowland-Callanan, MNCPS (Acc) | MBACP | MCIM | Psychotherapist
London, England, E3

Ellie Rowland-Callanan (she/they) is a LGBTQIA+ affirmative Psychotherapeutic Counsellor and queer person, working in a creative and intersectional way, in private practice at ReflectivE3. They have been an advocate in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) best practice in corporate settings for over a decade, and also work as an EDI consultant.

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