Clinical Psychologist, Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Perth, Western Australia
Most of us experience some form of Trauma during our lifetime and deal with it as we would other significant life events. Whether we react habitually or respond consciously can greatly affect our quality of life in the medium and longer term.
Trauma usually follows an event that is life threatening or likely to cause injury, that produces feelings of terror, horror, or helplessness. More broadly it can also include threats to integrity, major losses, events that were very upsetting but were not life threatening or childhood abuse or neglect.
Trauma can result in alienation from others and from ourselves, expectations of further maltreatment, and other lasting breaches in the normal connections and relationships between people. This does not mean that if you are having these experiences that you are weak. These are normal responses to abnormal or extreme events and they can challenge our feelings of safety.
Immediately following the 'fight or flight' responses to a traumatic event, you are likely to require support and reassurance that you are safe. We most often find this in the arms of loved ones or we may seek reassurance and support from an appropriate professional(s).
Emotional pain associated with traumatic events is normal, although it may feel overwhelming. If we do not deal adequately with our distress, then longer term suffering can result. The ongoing avoidance of emotional pain may manifest as distracting behaviours, use of alcohol or drugs to numb pain, dissociation or denial.
Other signs that trauma may be prolonged or unresolved can include:
- Changes in mood: anxiety, depression, anger
- Changes in thinking: flashbacks, memory loss, confusion
- Changes in behaviour: avoidance of triggers, disruption of routines, poor sleep
If these changes continue unabated, they can become complex and dysfunctional. Some people go on to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or are mistakenly diagnosed with another psychiatric disorder.
Getting help when required can make a big difference and prevent the development of more complex ingrained symptoms such as feeling constantly angry or teary, or chronically frightened.
People generally utilise the best possible coping strategies available to them at the time, and sometimes avoiding pain is the best choice available. In therapy, the aim is to bring awareness to our own psychological suffering and to support the choice of healthier alternatives for the resolution of painful experiences.
A safe environment in the context of the therapeutic relationship where we can explore and resolve unfinished trauma is essential to this process. We can learn to sustain moment-by-moment focused awareness of (and openness to) our internal experience and immediate environment without judgement and with acceptance. This approach can enable us to sit with our pain whilst also connecting with our strengths, adaptive capacities and hopefulness for the future. Improving the regulation of our emotions in turn supports decreases in denial or other avoidant behaviours.
Therapy can be useful when we are feeling stuck during the processing of a traumatic event. Often early intervention can prevent the development of more complex symptoms. If you would like further information or to make an appointment you can contact Hank by email or telephone:
Counsellor and Psychotherapist
0400 186 760
Mount Lawley Counselling Centre
13 Alvan Street
Mt Lawley (Perth), WA 6050
Briere, John. New Directions In Trauma Mindfulness: Multimodal therapy in complex post traumatic stress. The Delphi Centre. 2011.
Gilbert, P. (2009a). Introducing compassion-focussed therapy. Advances in psychiatric treatment, 15, 199-208.
Goldstein, E. (2010). Mindfulness and Trauma.
Ross, Colin A. & Halpern, Naomi. Trauma Model Therapy. A Treatment Approach For Trauma, Dissociation and Complex Comorbidity. Manitou Communication, Inc. 2009.