Trauma at first sight may be a term that is perceived to be a well understood concept among both counsellors and the public. The widely held understanding of the term may be as a single event partly arising perhaps for the wide publicity given to ‘Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome’ for those returning from war zones or harmed by witnessing or actually experiencing events such as terrorist atrocities.
My trauma based practice, while acknowledging the profound shock of these forms of trauma, is based on what I describe as the Trauma Spectrum. By this I mean that both psychological and somatic (body based responses) trauma symptoms can be endured and experienced from a single traumatic experience, or as a result of series of events, or from a continual pattern of physical, emotional and psychological abuses at any age and especially in early life. These symptoms may even sometimes be experienced before birth as a result of Cortisol being enabled to cross the placenta as a result of certain forms of stress during pregnancy.
Responses can range from a full dissociation, where the event is denied to the conscious and to memory, to more common psychological disturbances that render the sufferer unable, or only with difficulty, to experience life without anxiety, fear, intolerable explosive stress or other debilitating conditions. Sufferers may find it difficult to hold down jobs or to have full satisfying stable relationships; they may find it extremely difficult to trust any aspect of their external environment.
In general terms the trauma spectrum might be said to exist across a range of presenting symptoms that exist to protect the psychological self from fully experiencing the impact of what has happened to the person. The role of the counsellor is to help the client to understand what has happened to them, how they have been impacted and to help them to recover from the symptoms of the response to the trauma.
In therapy sufferers may find that there are different and identifiable ‘parts’ to them each exhibiting a different persona; they may regress into a child or speak in different forms; flashbacks and vivid dreams may be experienced. The counsellor will seek to navigate these various presentations with compassion and gentleness careful not to engage in a re-experiencing of the trauma, seeking to support by being a reliable non-judgemental and consistent presence.
Together with the client the counsellor will seek to integrate the client’s experiences with their life. This may include working with and differentiating between multiple personalities, dissociation of the self, multiple selves and the self as a complicated mix of experience. The intent is to enable the client to experience a life that disables the chronic and toxic elements and consequences of traumatic experience and abuse.