Recently I attended a workshop called ” Collaborating on Narrative Responses to Trauma” presented by the skilled Ian Percy, the person who first introduced me to Narrative Therapy and Narrative ways of looking at the world, during my studies at Curtin University. This gave me a lot to think about and also confirmed a lot I had already know and worked with, with clients. It left me quite excited about continuing to work with those who have experienced some form of Trauma.which is why I felt like writing this blog.
Firstly let me define how I see Trauma (and not only me): It results from any experience that leads to more emotion than the person can deal with. People can be traumatised by any event. It can vary from person to person and often also depends on such things as age and life experience. It is linked to the perception of threat (consciously or unconsciously) and an inability to deal with it at the time. As Peter Levine (2008)states in his book Healing Trauma: “We become traumatised when our ability to respond to a perceived threat is in some way overwhelmed. This inability to respond can impact on us in obvious, as well as subtle ways”(p.9). He also confirms that it doesn’t matter what the event is (it can be anything), Trauma is Trauma and that it can show up years later, as I’ve noticed with many of the people I have seen therapeutically over the years.
From this definition, it becomes obvious why it’s often those who experienced something traumatic in childhood, are the ones frequently most affected. Children have less power to respond to things adults or those in authority do, they often believe they are responsible, and also have less emotional capacity (as yet) to know how to respond or cope-which leads them to pushing the trauma far away in their psyche (which is actually the most sensible thing for them to do at that time). Until one day in adulthood it pops up, totally unexpected. And then people come see a therapist saying, I think I’m going crazy or their doctor superscribes medication to help push it all down again.
So what is the impact of Trauma? At the workshop, our group of therapists and helpers attending, got together and brain stormed how we had noticed trauma’s impact. And as we amalgamated all the things mentioned, a common list emerged. And the lights went on for me. Some things I had already acknowledged but some of the other comments confirmed things for me that I had noticed but never put into words or coherently understanding. All the things I had felt and held somewhere at the back of my understanding came together and were seen clearly. Yes! This was exactly it. So here is the list of how the ongoing effects of Trauma can show themselves emotionally, and interestingly these symptoms are so close to those of Depression:
A stuckness. A sense or repetitiousness (there is no end, how can it ever be different), including flashbacks and unwanted memories.
A disconnection and separation from self, your body, others, life, joy. Often there is a collapse of the sensory world-less connection to your senses. .
A deep sense of loss. A sense of isolation and aloneness. Emptiness
A sense that the trauma has captured/trapped/imprisoned you-against your will. And won’t let go.
A lack of vitality or energy. A lack of free flow in your body,mind,life. a holding back.
An inability to relax (and often to sleep well). Always being vigilant and on guard. Often on edge. a lot of energy used to try keep safe (due to a sense the world is not a safe place). And exhaustion, chronic fatigue, headaches,continual tiredness due to this. Finding daily existence is all you can handle. anything more is too much. Adrenal fatigue due to your nervous system being continually aroused-which can lead to many health issues..
A difficulty staying present, in the moment.
Trouble trusting people, life, the universe, etc.
Experiencing a continual underground un-articulated fear/anxiety. with a reluctance for it to be spoken about.
Afterwards I showed these to a client of mine who was diagnosed with Depression and seemed quite hard on herself about being weak or somehow wrong because she couldn’t overcome the depression (but who had shared she had experienced Trauma as a child) and it struck deeply with her. She was quiet for a while, then sighed deeply and replied “I have finally been understood”. And my deep sense was also that she now finally understood herself and how the Trauma had impacted on her, and her own responses to it. And how the symptoms were not of her making, nor easy to “just” get over -as she felt people around her were indicating she should.This seemed freeing to her and she seems very different to me in our next few sesssions, carrying more of a sense of hope.
The other wonderful thing about the workshop (and this was the Narrative Therapy part) was the way it a taught a different approach to this seemingly heavy and difficult issue. Ian reminded us of how our society generally describes the impact of trauma only as debilitating and damaging, and those who have experienced it as powerless Victims. This can negatively impact on how trauma survivors see themselves, but also on how we as therapists might work with them. The workshop left me feeling very optimistic and hopeful re working with people who had experienced Trauma, as it reminded us to focus more on the way people had responded to the trauma, so they would become aware they had not been totally helpless nor powerless in regard to the trauma events. And it reminded me that the main focus of therapy does not necessarily have to be on the trauma details! The workshop helped us explore the questions to ask, which would highlight those responses, usually un-recognised and un-acknowledged. And with this recognition, we can help people gain a restored sense of valued self. A deep understanding that they did not just endure, they did respond, they did fight back and resist in what ever way possible-even if this was ” only” mental withdrawal in order to protect themselves and which shows how strongly they knew what was happening was far removed from their values.
In regard to Trauma due to abuse: Wherever there is injustice, misuse of power and control over, as is often used by perpetrators of abuse, there is resistance by those being impacted. The key is to recognise and value that resistance.
OK, I think I’ve come to a natural end of what I want to share today. There is a lot more that can be said on this topic and I may do so at a future time, but it seems enough for now.