‘(trauma) therapy needs to consist of helping people to be in their bodies and to understand their bodily sensations. And this is certainly not something that any of the traditional psychotherapies, that we have all been taught, help people to do very well.’
Bessel van der Kolk, MD
International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies
What is Trauma?
The experience of trauma is universal. Any number of situations, happening singly or repeatedly over a prolonged period, can traumatize us. Apparently simple incidents, such as a falls and routine medical procedures can leave us just as traumatized as physical or sexual abuse. Early in our lives, when our brains and bodies are less developed to cope with stress, we are more susceptible to trauma. Children who experienced a difficult birth, medical procedures, or medical intrusion, abandonment or neglect may become very traumatised, impeding their ability to cope with stressful situations later on in their lives.
What are the symptoms of Trauma?
Symptoms can be diverse and are often overwhelming. Some people may experience intrusive flashbacks and vivid nightmares, high anxiety, or panic attacks. Others may have difficulty concentrating, have rapidly changing and intense emotions, strong anger or rage. It is common to experience the extremes of either vigilance or numbness, as well as difficulties with sleeping or eating. Substance abuse, compulsive self-harming behaviours, and dissociation are also common.
Those with a history of early or prolonged trauma, may have additional difficulties: trust and intimacy, a distorted sense of self, body image problems, intensed guilt and shame, troubled relationships, and general difficulties finding meaning in life.
All of these symptoms are the NORMAL physiological reaction of
the brain and body to an overwhelming event that threatens life or limb.
What happens in trauma therapy?
Trauma therapy brings the body back into balance after it has gone through and overwhelming, traumatic event. It does this by supporting the body's natural ability to regulate itself.
First steps of trauma healing include gaining control over disturbing symptoms and reducing them so that a feeling of safety is established. The event of trauma shatters our ability to trust and feel safe in the world. Gaining control over symptoms allows a feeling of safety to gradually re-emerge. When trauma has had a very dramatic impact on our bodies, it is essential to work with bite-size pieces so as not to overwhelm our bodies yet again.
Later steps of healing support the human organism’s natural impulse towards inner balance, regulation and health. The nervous system plays a key role in this re-regulation. Clients’ individual resources are identified to support and strengthen this natural healing process.
Once in connection with these resources, it is possible to work with the symptoms of trauma to release their impact on the body. This is done by bringing awareness to how thoughts, sensations, images, and behaviour associated with the traumatic event are experienced in the body.