Trauma is defined by how your nervous system reacts to deeply distressing or intensely disturbing experiences. Painful experiences can be difficult to avoid, and if an experience is perceived by the person as life-threatening and very scary, that situation can be called traumatic.
People, especially children, can be overwhelmed by traumatic events. You mentally and emotionally enter “survival mode” when you feel your life is in danger. When you go through trauma, it can fundamentally alter your sense of safety in the world and often has long-term effects on your nervous system.
Many people have experienced childhood trauma of one kind or another. This could be from general neglect, emotional, sexual or physical abuse, or the loss of a parent, caregiver or loved one. Other traumas that can affect the nervous system in the same way include physical assault, witnessing violence, serious or chronic illness, invasive medical procedures, abandonment, divorce and natural disasters.
What Is Trauma Counseling?
Trauma counseling is counseling that specifically targets how your nervous system reacts to your life in this present moment. For many people, trauma from the past lingers into their current life as a way of reacting to threats (real or perceived) that invoke a similar response that their trauma did in the past.
For example, you may have experienced trauma from a caregiver or a situation that happened in your past. Today, when you try to create relationships with other people and you are placed in similar situations, you may react with a heightened sensitivity. These sensitivities can occur in your body, through your feelings or with your thoughts/beliefs. If your reactions are similar to ways you previously responded, that is a trauma reaction. It’s also called being triggered.
It’s also one of many clues that trauma counseling can help you sort through your past to take back some control over your nervous system today.
Trauma can come back to you in many ways: memories, bodily sensations, thoughts, fears, lingering worries or sensations that you “can’t seem to let go of” and more. When you had experiences in the past where you were wounded in a traumatic way, it can have devastating effects on your life.
What Is A Trauma Bond
Ongoing abuse coupled with vacillating experiences of warmth/love and fear of (or actual) violence/abuse, does not help you become a strong, independent person. Instead, it traps you in what is called a trauma bond. Trauma bonds are patterns in relationships where you feel stuck or trapped in an unhealthy relationship that you “can’t seem to walk away from even when you know it’s bad for you.”
Trauma bonds often form between abusive parents and children because children are dependent on their caregiver and can’t “walk away.” This dependency is confusing for the child because as much as their parent’s abuse is repulsive, they also depend on their love and care to survive.
When someone experiences a situation like this, it can impact their mental template of what a “healthy relationship” is because your understanding of healthy love stops growing at the time of your trauma. As an adult, you may find yourself connecting with unhealthy partners, bosses, friends or other “toxic” people. These relationship patterns keep you stuck and you likely feel extremely frustrated and held back in some part of your life.
Trauma treatment helps you uncover the root, or origins, of the feelings you’re having. This is important because most people tend to protect themselves from traumatic memories by either ignoring or trying to forget them. Of course, this is completely understandable and was important for you to do, since it helped you survive. Especially when something is perceived as life threatening, survival is the most important thing!
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What Are The Different Types Of Trauma Therapy?
When it comes to healing from trauma, there are many different approaches you can take. Below are the services I offer to help clients and often, we use a combination of these approaches to help move things forward faster.
Psychotherapy (AKA Talk Therapy)
Within the first several sessions, I usually get a complete history of your childhood and adulthood. This gives us an understanding of what happened that led to your traumatic responses and sheds light on other difficulties you may be having.
Becoming conscious of who you really are and where you come from starts to wake you up to your true self. When you are unable to express your truest nature, this often manifests in anger and anxiety. So expressing yourself fully is an important on-going part of the process.
Talking about your situation is helpful to lay the foundation, but we don’t just talk. In most cases, we move into EMDR or Neurofeedback next.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is an approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective to relieve many types of psychological stress.
When we do EMDR, we work together to discover the events from your past that created the problem or present situations causing you distress. The technique of EMDR aims to help you desensitize your nervous system from the internal experiences related to events similar to those that were traumatic in your life (real or imagined). Through a set of inquiries, we explore topics and then I help you resolve the event. We do this by identifying, processing through, and desensitizing you to those experiences and others that are similar in nature.
This allows you to feel more in control and positive about your life. EMDR strengthens positive self-beliefs after which the body sensations and negative feelings associated with the problem become much more manageable because you’re less reactive.
That isn’t to say that you wouldn’t react to a red-alarm fire in an appropriate way in the future. But it is to say that you won’t react to a smoldering fire as if it were an all-out emergency when it really just needs a lighter touch.
Every person has a different need for EMDR treatment. Some people can jump right into EMDR with no problem. Others may need to work on feeling safe enough to proceed by using neurofeedback before going into the deeper issues. EMDR therapy reprograms your neural pathways so that routine brain functions resume. The stressful events are remembered without the emotional baggage constantly clouding your judgment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT treatment focuses on changing your thinking patterns. You can learn to analyze and recognize your own ways of thinking that cause problems in your life. By understanding your own behavior, you can then begin to understand other people.
CBT teaches coping skills. As you successfully employ these skills, you develop more self-confidence. You use CBT in traditional talk therapy and it’s generally considered one of the most effective therapy models available to clients. The skills you learn here will transfer across your communication and support your life generally long after therapy is finished
When you’ve been under stress, it’s normal to start to feel tense in your body/muscles and emotionally upset. If this happens enough times, and for extended periods, your body and mind can get stuck in an amped-up state. It’s almost like being and feeling upset becomes a habit because your entire being is connected to this state of feeling upset, emotionally unsettled, and stressed. When this happens, it leads to a loss of your sense of joy and excitement about life because your focus is tilted towards the more intensified areas of your life.
When tension becomes chronic, it can take a toll on your health. Normally, once the stress is resolved, your nervous system will come back down to a calm place. But with chronic stress and anxiety, your brain and nervous system do not return to a calm level. This is where neurofeedback comes in. Neurofeedback returns your nervous system to a more regulated, resilient and calm state. It works directly on the brain by creating calming and relaxing brain waves that put your mind and body into an even-keeled, calm place. Over several sessions, we can train your brain to promote a calm mind and healthier body.
One very unique feature of neurofeedback is that it works without having to talk about your trauma. We don’t have to bring up any memories. We just calm the brain by working with calming brain waves.
For many people, this is the best way to begin trauma counseling because we settle the nervous system and calm your mind and body before we start exploring the trauma. That way, when it’s brought up, the memories and painful experiences are filtered through a calm mind and heart versus an amped up and dysregulated one.
The Flash Technique is used to help process difficult memories during EMDR. It is a much more gentle way of reprocessing traumatic memories without having to focus on them. Instead, we focus on a wonderful, positive memory and only check in very briefly with the traumatic memory every so often. Just enough to monitor that it is reducing in intensity and to keep it in the back of your mind.
This technique has helped a lot of people who just cannot deal with keeping their traumatic memories in their conscious mind for very long at all.
There are some people who really have a hard time thinking of a positive memory. If you fall into this category, we might have to get creative. Positive memories can include imagining yourself doing something you love, like a hobby. Cooking, hiking, working on your car, and drawing are good examples. Maybe playing an instrument or even looking at a picture of a beautiful place can work.
We can also return to eye movements at any time if we think this would be better. Once the intensity of your traumatic memory is reduced, I can then go back to the regular EMDR protocol.
Trauma Counseling: Frequently Asked Questions
There are several ways to identify that you are ready or would greatly benefit from trauma therapy. Feeling worthless and useless and having chronic low self-esteem can mean you have trauma in your background.
If you keep getting involved in bad relationships that go nowhere, it’s also likely that there is a traumatic root cause in your past. We can talk about whether this stems from childhood trauma or from trauma experienced in relationships along the way.
Either way, chronic low self-esteem, unhealthy or unsatisfying relationship patterns, and a nagging feeling like you just don’t know how to have a healthy relationship are all signals to listen to that trauma counseling may help you.
Another sign is that you may feel like your feelings are controlling you rather than the other way around. Your feelings might be more intense than your current circumstances seem to warrant. Or, you might say or do things that you later regret.
If you have uncomfortable or intolerable body sensations, this might also mean that old trauma is coming up for you. Sudden, intense memories that come up, unrelated to your current life are usually related to trauma as well.
All of these symptoms are good signs to listen to and indicate that trauma therapy may support your healing.
There are several types of trauma. Here’s a short list for you to explore.
Developmental trauma includes traumatic events from childhood that hampered development since they occurred when the brain was maturing as you grew up.
Vicarious trauma occurs when you hear about or witness someone else’s traumatic experiences.
Acute trauma is the result of a single traumatic experience.
Complex trauma occurs when multiple traumatic events seriously affect your view of the world.
Intergenerational trauma is when the surviving patterns and coping mechanisms developed in response to trauma are passed from generation to generation.
Trauma caused by grief can occur when there is death of a parent or caregiver, especially when this happens when you are a child.
Finally, medical trauma can happen when you have a serious disease or illness, pain, injury, medical procedures and/or frightening treatments.
After EMDR therapy, you can expect to feel relief. You most likely will be less distressed by your traumatic memories, and no longer feel like the traumatic event is still happening to you. Sometimes, as you are processing trauma, you might have realizations that lead to feelings of anger and sadness.
Some clients share with me that they feel tingly, calmer, lighter and more clear headed. You might have a renewed understanding of yourself. EMDR can also stop the endless loop of flashbacks. Healthier beliefs will often replace old negative thought patterns.
Get Help Today
My therapy practice is located in California and I see clients in my Santa Monica and Torrance offices. If you’re looking for help, please reach out to me. I do not have a wait list and can schedule clients quickly. My practice is cash-based which means I do not accept insurance at this time.
You can reach me directly at 310-314-6933 or email me at email@example.com. If you are in a true emergency, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text NSPL at 988.