What is Trauma Counselling?
Trauma Counselling is an approach to counselling that is applied throughout our entire therapy clinic for clients who have experienced trauma to help them manage their mental health symptoms. Trauma Counselling is an evidence-based therapeutic intervention that is based on the latest scientific developments that have advanced therapist’s understanding of how trauma affects the mind, the body, and even epigenetic inheritance between generations.
Trauma Counselling employs two strategies to assist client’s in processing the traumatic events: top-down and bottom-up approaches. It sounds fancy, but it basically means targeting both the cognitive reaction to trauma and the bodily reaction which are based at the top and bottom of the brain respectively. Trauma can emerge from one event, or several events that create compounding and complex trauma throughout a lifetime. It can occur in adulthood, or it could happen during childhood. The type of trauma and when it occurred changes what therapeutic intervention will be most useful to a client. That is why at Upbeat Health and Wellbeing, we offer different therapeutic approaches.
What is Trauma?
Saakvitne et al., (2000) defines trauma as “the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions in which the individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed and the individual experiences (either objectively or subjectively) a threat to their life, bodily integrity, or that of a caregiver or family member”.
This means that trauma is a subjective experience whereby an individual feels threatened and overwhelmed. This will change from person to person. Infants who are neglected or face abuse have different resources than adults who have extensive resources. What may not be traumatic for one person may be extremely traumatic for someone else. There is no external criteria for counts as more or less traumatic. It is entirely individual.
People who have experienced traumatic events without accessible resources to process it then may go on to develop distress as the individual employs strategies to attempt to cope with the trauma. This can include:
- Difficulty regulating emotions.
- Anxiety and depression.
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering.
- Anger and aggressive outbursts.
- Flashbacks of the event.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Addictions or compulsive behaviour.
- Eating disorders.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder and complex-post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Withdrawing from interpersonal relationships.
Trauma Counselling inherently aims to assist in the processing of traumatic memories to allow clients to integrate the experience into their life narrative and reduce the symptoms of their distress.
Who is Trauma Counselling for?
Trauma Counselling is for anyone who feels like they are stuck in a cycle of emotional reactivity, avoidance of negative thoughts or memories, and who feel their lives are negatively impacted by these things – especially relating to interpersonal relationships. They are the core symptoms of trauma. Here are some things that could be traumatic and require Trauma Counselling:
- Interpersonal stranger assault (physical, verbal, sexual, trafficking).
- Witnessing or experiencing childhood family violence.
- Childhood neglect or early attachment trauma with primary caregiver.
- Intimate partner violence and abuse.
- Sexual abuse perpetrated by a known person.
- Medical trauma.
- Bullying and discrimination.
- Systematic abuse against marginalised people.
- Intergenerational trauma.
- Serious illnesses.
- Witnessing a death.
- Transportation accidents.
- Natural disasters.
- Experiencing homelessness.
- Great financial losses.
How does Trauma Counselling work?
Body-based approaches target the regulation of the limbic system and expand a client’s ability to recognise overwhelming feelings while creating a safe space to process them. Exploring traumatic memories and feelings without first creating a sense of safety can be re-traumatising, thus establishing a stabilising connection to the present moment and safety first is paramount. Client’s can then explore their trauma at their own pace, in the medium they feel safest with, without getting overwhelmed. It targets the brain activity located in the brainstem and limbic system which together controls the physiological arousal and emotions, and the response we call ‘fight, flight, freeze, fawn’. It is an older and more instinctual part of the brain that does not always respond to logic, and in fact impedes our ability to access our frontal cortex, or higher thinking, when activated. Calming the body first, allows for higher level thinking to occur once again instead of being in a cycle of emotional reactivity.
Top-down approaches focus on higher level cognitive processes. In other words, it focuses on logical thinking. Thought patterns, beliefs and meanings, object associations and triggers, emotional literacy, and coping strategies all reside here to some degree. Trauma highly impacts cognitive functioning and once the body feels safe enough to be regulated it can be useful for individuals to explore and process how trauma presents in their life and start to implement change. This can be done by re-evaluating beliefs, learning new coping strategies and skills, identifying unhelpful thought patterns and interrupting their automatic operation, and safely exploring the traumatic event to re-narrate the story and meaning attached to it.