Over the years I have learned that each person is ready to open the door to past trauma in their own time. In order to process traumatic material it has to be completely behind you and you have to be in a situation where you feel emotionally safe enough to go back to the past. It takes a great deal of courage and strength to go back to terrible things that you experienced. Most people have a hard time seeing how something that happened when they were young could affect them today. Some people may not see how a traumatic event in adulthood could be affecting them either. Part of that is because blocking out what happened and how we felt when it happened is a common coping mechanism. It helps you to stabilize and is absolutely adaptive in the short run. If the trauma is isolated and afterwards you have the support, love and safety you need the trauma becomes just a bad thing that happened. If the trauma is ongoing and you don’t have that support, safety and love or you don’t have it in the way you needed there may be residual emotional damage from what happened. Another reason it’s hard to see how trauma affects you is that much of the damage involves being triggered and most of the triggers are sensory. This means that when you are activated by something that reminds you of a traumatic event that you lived through it involves your senses. It is the sound of a car back-firing that sounds like a gunshot and makes you jump. It is the look of the sky during a certain time of the year when you are on edge all the time that reminds you of when your mother’s abusive boyfriend briefly moved in. Or it is the smell of alcohol that reminds you of your alcoholic grandparent and makes you feel anxious or even sick for no apparent reason. What makes this hard is that it is rarely a conscious thought about how you hate the smell of alcohol because it reminds you of that abusive grandparent. It’s more this feeling in the pit of your stomach and you don’t know why you have it. Putting together what these triggers are and making sense of them is part of therapy. Learning how to soothe yourself when you do get triggered is just as important. Post-traumatic stress is a physiological response. For that reason learning how to manage those responses and calm yourself down physiologically is extremely important. The beginning part of therapy should largely focus on this. That is because once you begin to talk about the trauma there have to be ways that you can soothe yourself. This along with a strong and safe alliance with your therapist that enables you to come back when you feel overwhelmed. And finally, if this was something that happened as a child, understanding and uncovering how this changed the way you see the world and how those beliefs may be driving your behavior today is also what the process of therapy helps with.
I should also mention that just because you have experienced something traumatic does not mean you will necessarily develop PTSD. And going into therapy because of a past trauma does not have to mean reliving the whole experience either. It is important above all to go at your own pace, paying attention to when it is too intense and making sure you have tools and coping strategies in place to soothe yourself and calm your physiology while processing what happened. I am trained to specifically help you listen to what that pace is while also acknowledging what happened. Finding that therapeutic window where if it feels overwhelming you can bring yourself back from that state but also not keeping what happened at a distance and making room to talk about as much of it as you to need talk about is the art of being a good trauma therapist.
For the first ten years that I was a therapist I worked exclusively with clients who had experienced trauma. I helped children and the elderly after Hurricane Andrew struck Homestead in 1991. I worked with adults and children who had experienced abuse in their families. I also worked with non-offending parents to help them support their children who had been abused. I was fortunate to work at a small agency started and run by other trauma therapists. This agency was committed to providing survivors with the best treatment possible. All of the therapists I worked with had many decades of experience, I was the youngest by many years when I first started. Running therapy groups with these experienced professionals and being a part of case consultations where I could get feedback on my cases as well as listen them talk about their cases was an education in and of itself. I was also sent to trainings from the most respected researchers and clinicians in the United States. Learning how to facilitate therapeutic changes in a setting where clinical excellence was valued above all else was a privilege. Once I started my own practice in 2002, I continued to treat trauma and obtain training on the most effective forms of treatment. I am also certified to do Critical Incidence Stress Debriefing, which involves speaking to people immediately following an incident that was life threatening or could be perceived as traumatic to help them in avoiding any kind of post-traumatic stress reaction.
Having over twenty years of experience in helping clients through this process has helped me better know how to help each person that I work with. Since 1993 I have treated close to a thousand cases of trauma. With all of that experience comes a great deal of knowledge that you can’t learn in a book. Having helped many people navigate the difficult terrain of trauma I do have a road map and can help guide you through the process. I do believe that my commitment to continued learning and training along with my experience makes me uniquely qualified to help anyone experiencing symptoms related to trauma.