What is a ‘trauma therapist’?
Trauma therapists specialise in working on how the past impacts the present. It may be an event that happened in adulthood, like an automobile accident or an illness. Or it may be a recurring painful pattern that stems from adverse childhood experiences. Often within ‘good’ childhoods there are things we learnt from our parents/care-givers that are unhelpful in later life. And in other situations, there was not much good in our childhood, and we have had to rely on ourselves alone to get us through.
Trauma therapists work with clients to process the footprints of trauma that are left after the event or series of events are over. We use a lot of new discoveries in neuroscience regarding the nervous system and how trauma is stored in different parts of the brain in order to do this. There is a crucial difference to ‘regular’ or ‘talk’ therapy here, in that a lot of recent discoveries about trauma demonstrate that it is not stored in the brain, and even less in the areas of the brain that deal with language. Therefore, trauma therapists tend to focus less on talking about the trauma and instead utilise a range of other techniques to address what occurred.
The work includes identifying core beliefs created by negative past experiences (such as ‘I am not safe’ or ‘I am not good enough’), and working with the body and the nervous system to process these beliefs.
One of the core tenants of this work is to always start with what is working and feels OK, and only gradually work with what is painful. A great analogy for this is that you should always be standing on the shore (the safe place) and putting your foot in the water (the trauma) and never feel you are being swept out to sea by the trauma. If that doesn’t feel very possible to you, we will work to develop resources for safety before doing any other work.
What makes a good trauma therapist?
Trauma healing work is complex and very specialised. It is a quickly evolving field as the understanding of trauma and how it impacts the brain and the body has evolved enormously in the last few years.
That means (in my very humble opinion) that all good therapists should be continuing go to trainings to learn more, and should do their own work to identify blind spots. Because of the complexities of this work, it is also an industry standard that all therapists have consultation/supervision about their work. This is something it is always worth asking when you are choosing a new therapist.
Beyond this, it is often a question of good fit. Each of us has our own imprints and experiences that lead us to feel that one person is safe and competent and another is less so. The more we can attune to our own inner wisdom on this, the more we can find practitioners that can meet our needs. The work can also go more rapidly when your own nervous system feels it is in the right place.
To help decide if I am the right fit for you, you can get more info here on how I work and learn more about me.
How long does therapy take?
There is a wide range of factors that affect how long therapy will take including what your goals are and what therapy is used. As a rule of thumb, a one off trauma that occurs in adulthood (for example a fall or a car crash) may be resolved a lot more quickly, possibly in 5-6 sessions. ‘Developmental trauma’ (meaning things in childhood that affected your adulthood) can take a lot longer.
Different types of therapy are also a consideration. EMDR tends to be a fast-paced therapy, and Somatic Experiencing is much slower – though as with the turtle and the hare story, sometimes slower can win the race. A further consideration is each person’s nervous system is different and can heal at a different rate, depending on the extent of trauma and the extent of the support and resources that were and are available. All of which is to say, therapy length will be guided by your goals, and your capacity. I will always do my best to listen to your needs and desires in this area.
I don’t want to talk about my childhood – is this for me?
Yes and no. Often clients want to work on a particular issue in the present without opening up old wounds. If the issue has no connection to the past, then certainly this is possible – and often leads to effective and fast results.
If the current issue does have roots in the past (for example a pattern of romantic relationships failing that has its roots in patterns from childhood), then there may be a need to look at where or how the pattern started. However, my aim is that we would always do this consciously and with a tight focus on what we need to know in order to relieve the problem in the present.
Why do you charge for cancelled sessions?
Because therapy is hard work, it is common for clients to sometimes want to avoid coming to sessions, especially when therapy is hard. Therefore, it is standard across the field to charge for missed appointments. It is partly a way to motivate people showing up to do the work that will help them heal.
My policy is that you can always cancel an appointment with 24 hours notice. Additionally, within the 24 hour period, you can call me and, if I have availability, I will reschedule you within the same week at no additional charge.
For more information on prices and policies, click here.
Why do you do this work?
At a fundamental level – this work can be life changing. Having been through this process in my own life, I have seen the huge transformation that the resolution of early life trauma can create. In working with clients I have seen this work transform with all kinds of physical, emotional and relational issues. Basic tenants of it such as safety, boundaries and noticing where energy from old traumas is stuck in the system can make a huge difference.
At an even more personal level, I believe the world changes one nervous system at a time (not a phrase I created). As we resolve our own trauma, we project our anger and fear less into the world, and there is a greater possibility of the world getting better (hard as that is to see at times…).
Peter Levine, creator of Somatic Experiencing says “Anytime anyone makes a shift [addressing trauma in the body] the shift affects everyone else – on a cellular level.
What kind of issues does this resolve?
When trauma overwhelms the nervous system, it affects all aspects of life, our physical health, our emotions, our beliefs, our ability to relate to ourselves, others and the world. There are a lot of ways trauma shows up. Here are a few examples of this.
Being stuck in flight mode – anxiety, panic attacks, avoiding relationships or commitment.
Being stuck in fight mode – anger, frustration, excessive action, not being able to switch off, not being able to sleep.
Being stuck in freeze mode – depression, dissociation, disconnection from self or things around you, procrastination
Negative self beliefs
‘I am not worthy’
‘I am not safe’
‘Other people are not safe’
‘Other people will hurt me’
This is a complicated issue, but often when there is fight, flight and freeze responses stuck in the body this can, if not dealt with, affect the physical health and cause a number of responses. Often problems with digestion, adrenal problems, ‘burn out’, chronic and unresolvable health problems are seen as having an underlying nervous system element.
Peter Levine famously says “Trauma is a problem of attachment.” Another way of saying this is that trauma pretty much always has a relational element to it. Our early relationships with our care givers are seen as forming our attachment styles – how we relate to other people as grown ups (no pressure there parents!).
Later trauma often includes other people in the event or in how we are supported or not supported after the event. Therefore it can influence our ability to form secure and healthy friendships and intimate relationships in many ways.This includes who we are attracted to, how we communicate in relationships and many other elements.
What about severe symptoms of trauma?
I work with clients who suffer “severe” symptoms of trauma such as hearing voices or feeling like they are out of their body and often these experiences can seem frightening. But when shared with others and understood within the context of how trauma affects our sense of self, they can become much more manageable and can often lead to amazing growth.
Should I see you even if I don't need trauma therapy?
Although I specialise in trauma, I also work with many clients who do not have trauma and are looking for support with relationships, problem-solving, or a host of other issues. If you have more questions about this, feel free to contact me here.