Trauma

Limiting patterns and beliefs

Have you experienced a traumatic event, or an event during which your resources to cope were overwhelmed?

Do you find yourself continually feeling or behaving in ways when you don’t want to?

Do your emotions impact your functioning?

Do you struggle with addictions, eating disorders or compulsions?

Have you had a difficult childhood or experienced traumas which continue to affect you today?

Do you feel launched into adulthood without the necessary tools to navigate life and relationships?

Do you feel as though you are doing everything you are “supposed” to do but never getting your needs met?

Are you looking for relief from the patterns controlling your life?

 

The way people think about themselves, have relationships with others, and adapt to life’s challenges, think, work and play are informed by patterns or schemas. Schemas are underlying, often subconscious core beliefs about ourselves, others and the nature of the world. Schemas or patterns can be helpful or unhelpful/maladaptive. Maladaptive schemas develop in response to unmet core childhood needs. The five core childhood needs are:

  • Safe attachment
  • Autonomy
  • Realistic limits
  • Free expression of needs and emotions
  • Spontaneity and playfulness.

When these core childhood needs are not adequately met, whether as a result of death, divorce, conflict, abuse, neglect, long hospitalisation or separation from caregivers, learning difficulties, bullying, mental illness etc. maladaptive schemas develop. These maladaptive early childhood schemas are formed by early experiences and influence later experiences. Without interventions these unhelpful patterns will continue unabated and negatively impact one’s sense of self, relationships with others, work, play and reaching one’s full potential.

 

Counselling addresses these schemas by focussing on both the thoughts and beliefs driving them, but also, and probably more importantly, focusing on the emotions associated with the unmet core needs. Through emotional focussed processing imagery and rescripting work can bring healing and growth to those parts.

Trauma counselling

Some forms of trauma are well acknowledged (think of natural disasters, accidents and rape) whilst others, namely falls or sports injuries, surgery, the sudden death of someone close, the break-up of a significant relationship, a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, and a life-threatening illness or disability are often overlooked. Trauma is a unique individual experience and individuals have differing degrees of vulnerability to trauma resulting in different responses to potential sources of trauma.

Trauma symptoms are emotional (shock, anger, mood swings, shame and self-blame, depression, anxiety, fear, social withdrawal and feeling disconnected and numb, physical (nightmares, hyperarousal, difficulty concentrating), cognitive (intrusive thoughts) and neurological (impaired information processing).

During a traumatic event neuromodulator catecholamines are released which impairs the prefrontal cortex. As a result rational and logical thought is severely limited or impossible. The fight, flee, freeze, flop, or friend response is therefore not a cortical decision, but rather an automatic strategy. Interestingly this response is seen during both the actual event, as well as during recall of the event. Hence, treatment strategies have to accommodate for these non-rational neurological responses. During therapy it is important to stay within the client’s Window of Tolerance (avoiding both hypoarousal and hyperarousal). Straying from the client’s Window of Tolerance will result in impairment of the prefrontal cortex and the client could regress or be retraumatised. Self-regulation skills, EFT, self-compassion and mindfulness training is invaluable for expanding the Window of Tolerance.

Berne’s Energy Theory: trauma leads to unbound energy and individuals try to balance it by acting out. One of the goals of treatment is to bind unbound energy and to direct free energy to the Adult Ego State.

Treatment Stages

The treatment stages provide a valuable roadmap making it clear to both the client and therapist where they are heading.

Stage one: Safety and Empowerment

The first stage involves establishing a sense of safety in the client. This includes the client-therapist situation, the therapy room, distance between the client and therapist, but also extends beyond the therapy room to their physical environment (e.g. is their home secure, do they travel safely, are they routinely in dangerous situations). Mindfulness and self-regulation techniques are very useful in this stage. Once the client is able to tolerate everyday stress, activate resources during times of stress, able to come into the here-and-now after a stressful event, and able to give a partial recall of a traumatic memory without decompensating, the client and therapist can move on to stage two.

Stage two: Reporting and Retelling

During this stage the client recounts their experiences without emotions. They focus on sensations (what they physically felt at the time), imagery (what they imagined), behaviour (what they and others did), affect (emotions they felt at the time), and meaning (meaning making of what happened at the time and since).

Stage three: Mourning and Grieving

The client explores the emotional experiences from within the Adult Ego state without slipping into re-experiencing. The focus is not on the actual events, but on the feelings surrounding it.

Stage four: Resolution and Integration

Stage four involves integrating recovery into their lives and moving on.

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