Trauma Informed Care
"trauma," "Trauma," and "Integration"
Everyone has some form of "trauma," as it is somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible to get through life without coming into contact with death, violence, sudden or unexpected loss. Many who experience "expected loss" still find that it sticks around, popping up in later relationships, or the way a lingering childhood fear shows up in the room when one goes from "being the child of a parent" to also being "the child of a parent." Parents will sometimes reconsider the way that they were parented and start to develop new ways of parenting, and in the process, a parent's need to be re-parented can show up.
What distinguishes "trauma" from "Trauma" is "everything else in and around the person." To just scratch the surface: The little "t" trauma is the type of trauma that quickly integrates into "normal," or the experience of "that was unfortunate, and I'm OK." A sign that an experience is more of a big "T" trauma is a ruptures in one's reality -- the person who was once "safe" is no longer safe, but "sometimes safe." The assumed safety, congruence, predictability of "the thing" (e.g. a person like "mom or dad" or a place like "school" or "my bedroom") is gone, and one's whole being, nervous system, self has to re-orient to a whole new set of assumptions. These experiences are caught in the nervous system, stored instead of "that happened and I'm OK" but more like "that was unfortunate, and I'm not OK." Trauma with a big "T" is the type of experience that alters belief systems, sense of self, one's whole relating with self, the world, and others ("the world is out to get me," "I better not get my hopes up," "I'm worthless," "I'm bad").
There's a cognitive, belief-level of rupture that trauma/Trauma causes, and there's a bodily, "caught at the level of nerves and DNA" type of rupture that has to be re-processed, and eventually re-integrated in order to experience health and healing. Sometimes trauma will be a singular event or season, like a car accident or a stint in a dangerous part of the world. For others, the "experience" was more of a complex, ongoing process of "norms" in the family of origin, the experience of being a refugee, an abusive relationship, and for others it is mysterious -- "I don't remember anything before the age of 14." A person may sometimes behave, act, think, be as if they have significant trauma without a clear memory of the trauma, while others may have caught some crystalized, readily accessible images, smells, sensations of the traumatic experience. And then there's every combination of remembered or not, disruptive or not, clear or not, ongoing or historical -- everyone has a different experience, everyone's body catches and remembers their trauma differently, and everyone resolves it differently.
Ultimately, the aim for trauma is "integration." In extreme cases, although these cases stand as a generalizable example, people who experience trauma will experience "dis-integration" of themselves from their bodies. Think, "out of body" experience, literally watching "the thing" happening to them from some other part of the room. Others will black out, remember nothing, going into a fawn-like state, or freeze. Some will run, fight, and everything in between. This is your body doing what it needs to do to survive the moment. The dis-integrating response is a safety one. We need our bodies to do this. But, this can be problematic later on when the danger has subsided. Freezing up, lashing out in a protective and angry way, disassociating during seemingly "normal" and mundane experiences can be a symptom of latent trauma. Integrating the current, usually cognitive experience of safety ("I know I'm OK") with the bodily, deeply held experience of trauma ("I'm not OK!") requires some deep, slow work. The therapeutic work will be touching, activating gently that trauma stored in the body, and bringing it into the sensation of present, bodily safety.
Imagine getting into a car after a traumatic car accident -- your body will give you some interesting, maybe scary sensations as it goes into "stay alive" mode. Re-integration means, giving your body signals, feelings, sensations of safety -- "the car isn't moving. I'm OK. I don't even have to drive right now. This is OK." Re-orientating your conscious self, and all the other parts of yourself to safety may be less about sitting in a car, and more about sitting with one's significant other and giving space to all the body signals and sensations that pop up there. The signals may keep going loudly at first, your body will do whatever it needs to do to survive, and you'll strengthen, reinforce, bring in that sensation of safety to yourself, with yourself, until you "integrate" safety. "I am not OK, and I can be OK." If you're in the car after the car accident, it's gently, patiently, kindly noticing and attending to the sensation of "oh s*$% I need to get out of here" with, "oh I notice my nervous system is doing a thing... I'm OK."
For those browsing the different sections of our website, this note will be a repeat, and it's worth repeating. Several of our clinicians are trained to offer EMDR. This form of therapy is an evidence-based treatment that has been shown to be effective for a wide range of trauma-related symptoms, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other emotional and psychological distress. EMDR is based on the idea that traumatic memories can become "stuck" in the brain, leading to ongoing emotional and psychological symptoms. By accessing and processing these memories through eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation, EMDR can help individuals reprocess the traumatic experience and reduce the intensity of their emotional and physiological responses to it.
All of our clinicians are "trauma informed," and as such they engage with an orientation towards exploring, asking "What happened..." versus "What's wrong with ..." and we do our best to stay connected with clients as they push back, engage, explore deeply those sensitive areas. As mentioned above, some of our clinicians are trauma specialists who have gone through extensive training, including EMDR in order to support clients in integrating these traumatic experiences.
Please reach out if you have any questions, our clinicians are happy to provide a free consultation call to anyone who would like to explore fit.