Trauma and moving on
Trauma is an experience of being completely overwhelmed, of being out of control. Trauma can be the result of a one-off event like a road accident, being the victim of a crime, an environmental disaster or a terrorist incident. Trauma can also comprise of an ongoing experience like exposure to and/or experiencing and re-experiencing domestic or sexual violence, war, torture, and so on.
Trauma is actually very common. Lifetime exposure to trauma amongst the general population is estimated to be between 60-70%. The impacts of trauma can be severe: We tend to lead our everyday lives around a belief that we are invulnerable, and so a traumatic incident can change this, leaving us feeling vulnerable and helpless, with a sense of incomprehension at what has occurred, and sometimes a negative view of ourselves and the world around us. Trauma can also make us feel anxious, fearful; sometimes we may not feel anything at all, or we can become depressed. We can also find difficulty sleeping and we can sometimes develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which means we can re-experience the trauma via memories, intrusive thoughts, dreams and flashbacks.
How can we move on from this? Normalisation is key for clients seeking therapeutic assistance. In other words, it is important for clients to understand what they are thinking, feeling and experiencing is normal given that they have been traumatised. Compassion focused work can also be beneficial, helping clients learn to become more compassionate towards themselves, their traumatic experiences and symptoms.
Cognitive-behavioural approaches can also be good. This involves the therapist helping the client to identify trauma-related thoughts, behaviours and physical sensations in relation to trigger events. Through this process the client can begin to gain a greater understanding of their trauma, what might trigger trauma-related symptoms and what their coping strategies are. The therapist can then help the client to create more helpful thoughts and coping strategies, thereby reducing the severity of the client’s trauma-related symptoms and coping behaviours.
A strong therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist can help the client to begin trusting their environments and themselves again. It is possible to come to understand that the trauma has ended, that it was in our past and no longer is with us in our present. Through exploring and constructing a story about ourselves, and our traumas, that make sense to us, this can help us to move on and to re-build our lives.