Based on my training and experience, trauma can be anything that overwhelms you and makes you lose the ability to respond with flexibility in your life. In other words, what happened doesn’t matter nearly as much as your experience of it. If, back then, you felt there was nothing you could do, then you likely experienced something traumatic. Once that ended, the way you adapted to it and the amount of flexibility of your adaptive strategy are going to define how you incorporate (or not) these experiences into your life.
The above means that not every person who has experienced traumatic events will go on to feel traumatized. That’s one of the beauties of human diversity. Still, for a lot of people, a traumatic event will have some impact in their lives. This is okay, and it’s natural, and it doesn’t have to stay the same forever. If I didn’t believe in change, I wouldn’t be a psychologist!
Most of my work has to do with helping people whose traumatic experiences were inflicted by another person. When this has been the case, a lot of the traumatic response has to do with both the effects in the body and the effects in relationships. How are you supposed to trust, when trust has been abused and violated by someone else?
Working with someone who has experienced trauma
My approach happens in stages. First, we work on forming a relationship that feels safe enough to explore what’s going on in your life. During this stage, we also find ways that help you regulate your experience; to manage the intensity of what you’re feeling. Sometimes, reaching regulation is enough for people and they feel ready to close the therapeutic process.
Depending on the person’s interests and needs, we can then move on to the second phase: processing the meaning of what has happened. It’s all about understanding how the past has changed the way you live in the present, and how we can shape this differently so that you can get the most out of your life. Finally, if necessary, we can work on changing the impacts that this history and this new change have in your relationships.
A gentle pace
Something that is very important to me in this work is doing it gently. I don’t want my clients to experience therapy as torture. Especially in the case of trauma inflicted by someone else, creating a sense of safety between my client and me is crucial. Because of that, I try really hard to adapt my work to what makes sense to the person, giving them time to get to a safe-enough place. This makes sense to me not only in terms of keeping a strong connection with my clients, but also because of my understanding of neuropsychology. If my client has an experience of fear, they lose access to their whole brain. To create long-lasting change, we need access to the person as a whole.
Also, I think that working this way, I can use my relationship with my clients to explore trust. Can my client trust me? It’s okay to say no! I’ll respect it, and keep on working on building trust. This can become an experimental ground for healing. A place where someone can re-experience what trusting feels like, and being okay with it. I believe this is important to help my clients reconnect with the people they want in their lives, and to help them create trusting relationships they can enjoy.