As much as we’d all like to live in a beautiful world devoid of any pain and suffering, it is simply not possible. Going through ups and downs is a completely natural and inevitable part of life. However, sometimes getting up after falling seven times can be incredibly hard. Experiencing natural disasters, the loss of a loved one, violence, pain, grief, and suffering can make it especially hard to get back on with your life. As much as one might try to avoid them, the truth is, most of us go through difficult experiences in our life. Going through these hardships not only causes suffering at the moment, but it can also alter your personality and quality of life and leave behind a plethora of unresolved issues in its wake. This is where trauma counselling comes in. It can act as the light at the end of a dark, painful tunnel and can help you deal with the issues you are facing in life.
But before we jump in, we must first understand what trauma actually is. Trauma is the emotional response to an extraordinary experience in which a person encounters a single or repeated threat to their emotional or physical well-being which ultimately undermines their sense of security. This response manifests as a prolonged negative mental, physical or emotional state, where the person becomes unable to process their emotions and therefore feels trapped in this state irrespective of whether the danger or threat associated with that experience has passed.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of trauma:
- Acute trauma- stems from a single stressful event.
- Chronic trauma- results from repeated exposure to a highly stressful event.
- Complex trauma- results from exposure to multiple stressful events.
Apart from this, it is also possible to experience secondary trauma or indirect trauma as a result of close contact with someone who has experienced trauma or simply seeing or hearing accounts of the suffering of other living beings. While not all trauma survivors experience long-term negative consequences, trauma can still profoundly affect someone’s psychological, social, physical, occupational, and financial functioning.
Contrary to popular belief, trauma isn’t always due to an extreme event. Trauma is the feeling someone is left with after an extraordinary event, doesn’t matter what kind of event it was. Trauma, of course, can be caused by extreme events such as domestic violence, community violence, sexual or physical abuse, accidents, natural disasters, war, famine etc. But experiencing events such as the sudden loss of a loved one, the disintegration of a significant relationship, humiliation, bullying, discrimination, repeated distress or neglect in childhood, etc can also leave one feeling insecure or emotionally and physically vulnerable. A traumatic event can be any experience which causes physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm. Feeling helpless, vulnerable, anxious, angry, depressed, powerless, scared, numb, withdrawn, emotionally overwhelmed, denial, shame, guilt, insomnia or nightmares are some of the ways trauma can manifest in your life.
Trauma is our body’s natural response to an emotional or physically dangerous experience. Trauma has the tendency to get deeply entrenched into our psyche. It gets encoded in our brains when the nervous system charges emotional and physical reactions during traumatic experiences with additional hormones or chemicals such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol. As a result of this ‘coding’, the events become entrenched in an isolated part of our brain, disconnected from the part where we store language and memories. This makes it difficult to access and process trauma. Oftentimes, even long after the traumatic event is forgotten, the painful memories recur, affecting and inhibiting our ability to live in the present. This can put one at risk of developing mental disorders such as PTSD, addiction, depression, anxiety disorder, relationship difficulties, emotional distress, sexual difficulties etc.
Processing trauma can be extremely difficult and painful. In fact, in some cases, processing trauma can even be re-traumatising as one delves back into the traumatic events that are normally suppressed. Therefore, seeking trauma counselling can help facilitate the healing process by offering the support, time, safe space, and opportunity to unravel the trauma and process it. Trauma therapy is a form of therapeutic practice that helps you deal with the emotional response caused by a traumatic event. It can help validate your experiences and offer the understanding and acceptance you need to start healing. Trauma-informed therapy allows you to validate your emotions, assess your current coping mechanisms, make sense of what has happened in your life, move away from avoidance and suppressive behaviours, understand, recognise and integrate the traumatic event into your life in a safe manner, and ultimately release you from the shackles of the past. The goal of trauma-informed counselling is to essentially resource you with the skills to cope with the traumatic events and enable you to heal so you can restore yourself to a state of being where you can thrive in life rather than simply survive.
Trauma-informed care can help you with:
- Reducing fear and avoidance: Trauma can instil fear and a sense of erasure of security which can cause you to avoid people, places, or things that remind you of the traumatic event you faced. This can make it difficult for one to function as you might start self-isolating or avoiding anything that can trigger a bad memory. For eg; a person who was bullied or harassed for their outer appearance might completely shy away from the public or become hateful of their own reflection. Trauma therapy can help you confront the traumatic memory and overcome your fears.
- Improving coping skills: Oftentimes to deal with the distress faced by the trauma, one can start engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms to subdue the symptoms of traumatic memories. Drugs, alcohol, overworking, sex addictions etc are some of the unhealthy mechanisms one can develop to deal with the trauma. Trauma-informed care can equip you with the confidence and healthy coping skills to thrive in your life, instead of just surviving through it.
- Building trust: Traumatic events can disrupt your sense of safety and make you believe that everyone is out to get you. They can make it difficult for you to trust others which can, in turn, lead one to shut everyone out, even people in their own support system or become dependent on the people whom they allow in their lives. This can lead to either alienation or development or codependency. Trauma counselling can help you to rebuild your sense of safety by allowing you to assess your relationships and understanding that even though you were hurt in the past, not everyone is a bad person and it is okay to give people a chance.
- Challenge problematic beliefs: Trauma-focused therapy can help you challenge problematic thought patterns about yourself and the world around you and help you make sense of why the traumatic event occurred. For eg; adults who have been abused in their childhood can start believing that their abuse was justified and it happened to them because they were a bad person. Therapy can help them disconfirm problematic beliefs, develop a new perspective about the traumatic experience, and reduce the intensity of trauma-related emotions such as shame and guilt.
- Offer validation: People who have experienced trauma are repeatedly told that their experiences, characteristics, or emotional reactions are unreasonable and unacceptable. This victim-blaming creates a sense of shame and leads to further suffering and pain. Trauma therapy can offer you a safe space to talk about your issues and disclose trauma without any judgment.