If you're reading this, it's probably because either you or someone you love is experiencing the effects of trauma, sometimes known as PTSD. Perhaps you're even at the point of wondering whether or not life can ever get better.
I want you to know that there is hope. You just need to understand what you're facing and how to face it.
I had told my story to a variety of supportive people, including therapists. And yet, after years of doing this, I was still overwhelmed by confusing emotions and without a clear sense of self. I came to believe that it wasn’t possible to experience healing in this world. My only way forward, I thought, was just trying to cope with the pain and anxiety that had become my constant companions.
But I was wrong.
What I didn't understand is that it is possible to experience freedom and confidence again after trauma. I just needed a different kind of help.
People can spend years going to doctors, therapists, pastors, knowing that something is wrong but unable to account for it. Not experiencing any improvement, they sometimes even begin questioning their own sanity.
They’re not crazy. They’re experiencing the effects of trauma.
Survivors of trauma frequently will experience trauma memories as symptoms that feel entirely unconnected to the original trauma. Some of the diverse set of symptoms might include depression, anxiety, difficulty focusing, feeling unreal, feeling emotionally overwhelmed, nightmares, insomnia, chronic pain or headaches. Trauma survivors often struggle with substance abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm.
Until they recognize the connection between these symptoms and their trauma, it’s very difficult to get better.
During a traumatic experience, the language part of the brain shuts down to allow the survival part of the brain to do what it needs to do to stay alive. The result of this is that trauma survivors do not often have a clear coherent story of what happened to them. Instead, the memories are held in the associated symptoms they experience.
For this reason, someone who has experienced trauma will often struggle to explain to others what has happened to them. They don’t remember in a linear fashion. They feel their memories in the body, and these memories are not organized contextually in time and space. They intrude in a seemingly random pattern, in a way that makes it difficult to separate present from past.
The problem is that traditional talk therapy is highly dependent on a client's ability to tell their story. It will often take months or even years of processing with a therapist before a client might be able to put the pieces of their puzzle together and gain insight into what happened.
But even then, knowing something cognitively is not the same as feeling it as true. Until the memories are dealt with in a way the emotional brain can process, the feelings about what happened will remain the same.
A key turning point for me came when I experienced a different approach to therapy.
For a survivor of trauma, change happens, not through intellectual assent, but through a new experience of reality. And so what is needed in therapy is an experience of what is true now that is compelling enough to convince the emotional brain that the danger has passed.
This is what newer trauma treatments are all about. They focus on addressing memory through a person’s emotional brain, where memories are stored as sensory experiences. By helping to experience their memories in a new way, holistic mind-body approaches such as EMDR and Trauma-Informed Hypnotherapy enable people to "re-consolidate" these memories.
Over time, trauma survivors are able to integrate their experiences and become more fully themselves in the present moment. They experience progress. They experience hope.
My approach as a therapist is guided by two primary influences. As a Christian, I'm shaped by the conviction that God made us to be integrated people, with mind and body, imagination and creativity all working together in the process of becoming whole. As a trauma professional, I believe in helping people to integrate both cognitive and sensory memories. I am thrilled that the current understanding of best practice for working with trauma fits so well together with my faith through its emphasis on including the whole person in the healing process.
I work with trauma survivors in a collaborative way that honors their individual strengths and desired pacing. Clients can choose how much or how little to talk about their trauma, and our focus is on creating new meaning experiences through story, music, movement, games and imagery. I incorporate a variety of research-validated mind-body approaches including Trauma Informed Hypnotherapy (an effective combination of CBT and hypnosis), mindfulness, somatic awareness, and parts work. The aim in all of this is to reshape the emotional brain's current experience of past trauma, thus helping clients to be fully present today.
I love working this way with clients (trauma therapy can even be fun!) and clients usually enjoy it too. If your past trauma is keeping you from enjoying the present, I'd love to help.