November 2016 Trauma (Part 2): What Happens in Trauma Therapy?

In Part 1 of the series on trauma, the discussion focused on the definition of trauma and the common effects or responses to trauma. We will now be going in a little deeper to the ideas around trauma therapy or counselling.

Trauma Therapy

Therapy of any kind is nuanced and there is no perfect way to approach it. However, when counselling people who have experienced trauma, I am most informed by the work of Herman (1997), van der Kolk (2014), and Haskell (2008. This reflects the type of professional training I have received and practices I feel comfortable with in counselling sessions. However, this does not, in any way, suggest that other approaches are less helpful or less valid.

How does trauma therapy begin?

Generally, treatment for trauma begins with establishing safety and stabilization for the individual—therapeutically, but also relationally. The main goals are to provide information about treatment plans, highlight resources and strengths, address any substance misuse, self-injurious behaviours or suicidal ideation, and to minimize the traumatic responses. This is typically the longest stage of therapy and it is considered essential for providing a stable and safe foundation for the work ahead.

What happens next?

When appropriate, the work of transforming memories is then undertaken, with the goals of reducing their intensity and influence. Re-experiencing the trauma is never the goal as that might unintentionally re-traumatize the individual—the last thing you want to happen. Rather, a person is helped to construct a meaningful and coherent narrative about the trauma while continuing to feel safe and secure. Once the processing stage is nearing completion, we then focus on reorientation and reconnection with meaningful and desired aspects of life, including working on any difficulties in interpersonal relationships.

Of course, counselling work is complex, multi-faceted, and very diverse because people are that way too! Accordingly, there is no magic formula or perfectly structured sessions or pathways and there are many other approaches, which have not been discussed. However, this is meant to give a general overview of what one might expect in trauma counselling.

Feeling the effects?

As always, I encourage anyone who is feeling overwhelmed with life or concerned about their safety in any way to contact a professional or agency as soon as possible for assistance. If you would like to talk about this more, please use the contact me using my website, email, or Twitter accounts.

Peace to you and your household,

Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
Twitter: @gottasecond

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