Past trauma is all too often an underlying and untreated cause for a host of problems. Some people have ongoing struggles with mental health and substance use. They feel stressed out, can’t concentrate, feel confused, can’t sleep, their minds are always racing, feel emotionally numb, have mood swings and anger problems, worry constantly. Others may constantly seek an adrenaline rush, a thrill, and engage in risky or dangerous behaviors. Still others keep reacting badly yet have no idea why. All three types often feel like their lives are out of control. Substances may have helped for a time, but they have their own drawbacks. They‘ve tried psych meds, mental health therapy, substance rehab and nothing has really worked. Their problems are affecting their work, relationships, and health.
I focus on those underlying causes, help people regain their lives and experience a renewed sense of joy, inner peace, calmness, self-control, purpose, and meaning.
What Is Trauma?
When I talk about “trauma” I’m talking about both PTSD and trauma which are not necessarily the same thing. If you have PTSD you have been traumatized. However, you can have severe trauma symptoms yet not meet the psychiatric criteria for PTSD. That can lead to a host of inappropriate and harmful treatment.
Trauma can be virtually anything you couldn’t cope with physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually at the time … anything that still interferes with your life weeks, months, or even years later. It’s not so much the event that’s traumatic, but the way you perceived and reacted to that event.
Trauma can occur at any point in our lives – from the womb to the present. And it causes damage to ourselves, to our relationships, to our ability to function, to our hopes and dreams for the future. It’s damage that hurts us on the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels, and all three levels need attention in order to recover.
There are eight recognized categories of trauma ranging from one-time events like PTSD and warfare, to chronic trauma like child abuse/neglect, to rape/sexual assault, and from life-altering to life threatening. We can have conscious memories of what’s happened to us, or perhaps we don’t for various reasons – yet still react, badly. Trauma is rarely a one-time event – people often experience multiple traumas of different types throughout their lives. It’s possible to have experienced and suffer from all eight of these types of trauma. And the effects are often cumulative, causing more and more problems.
Common trauma reactions people experience can be a bewildering mix of physical, behavioral, mental, emotional, spiritual, relational and social. Reactions can be sudden and acute but they’re quite often gradual, showing up weeks, months, or even years after a traumatic event.
Trauma reactions are not disorders or mental illnesses, although they are often misdiagnosed as such. They are painful yet understandable reactions, survival behaviors, to abnormal events. And everyone can and does have their own unique patterns of reactions.
Often a person with a history of trauma tries a variety of ways to survive, to cope … emotional suppression, memory repression, denial, alcohol, drugs, medications, over-working, over- or under-eating, social withdrawal, self-harm, fighting, sexual acting out … ways that may work for the short-term but not for the long-term.
Why I Focus on Trauma
Trauma effects are cumulative. The more traumas we’ve experienced the more likely we are to be affected. And few people have experienced only one traumatic event.
Who has a history of trauma? Bluntly … everyone. The vast majority of those with mental health and substance problems have experienced more than one trauma as a child, and often additional occurrences as an adult – trauma is very rarely a one-time event.
I assess all my clients for trauma and share those results with them. I use a three-phase, structured approach in treating trauma / PTSD, tailored to your specific needs and type of trauma. One-size-fits-all does not work for the various forms of trauma.
Phase 1 starts with your assessment and treatment plan followed by 2-3 sessions focused on your safety, stress management, and emotional regulation. This includes education about common reactions, mindfulness, and body awareness. It’s also where we start to address stress, anger and emotions, grief, communication, and overall wellness. This phase is indirect work, doesn’t directly address your trauma history or problems, but it does help make it much safer for you to do more in-depth work.
I also encourage all my clients to do some form of body-work to address physical reactions to trauma, reactions we often carry around as chronic muscle tension and pain. TRE (tension, stress, and trauma releasing exercises) is my first choice here but there are other ways. Finally, you may need medication for initial stability. However, medication doesn’t address under-lying causes and should never be used long-term or be the only form of treatment.
Phase 2 builds on Phase 1, adds direct therapy for trauma, and helps you move toward living according to your own values with a renewed sense of purpose and control over your life. In this phase we continue the skills learned earlier and, depending on your needs, I may recommend ACT, EMDR, EFT, internal family systems or IFS, and other forms of therapy as needed. The therapy I provide reintegrates trauma, it does not teach “tolerance” for traumatic memories. If you want CBT, TF-CBT, PE, CPT, or DBT I’m not the therapist for you – these models all focus on tolerance and don’t work well. This phase will require about 10 sessions, sometimes less and sometimes more, and it will include homework.
Phase 3 is the closing piece where we go back and readdress your initial problems, see if anything else is still causing problems, and address those if needed. We can finish this phase in one session unless other material needs to be processed.
Every person is unique and their needs in terms of treatment will be different. Some people need all three phases plus body-work. Others do just fine and are happy with only the first phase and body-work, or with body-work alone.
Trauma can occur at any point in our lives. It can and does cause life-long problems. But it is fixable, and you can recover.
Curious about all this, feel “stuck” in life, want to make some changes, or simply want more information? Send me an email asking for a free consultation. Include your availability in the coming week and I’ll respond within 24 hours with a day and time that works for both of us.