ONE TO ONE COUNSELLING IN EAST LONDON

"Life is found on the other side of despair." Jean-Paul Sartre
Trauma therapy

WORKING WITH TRAUMA

As philosopher Shopenhauer famously said: "It is not things that disturb us but our reaction to things."

If you are familiar with computers, the Restart name is a metaphor I use to help explain how trauma works. When you start your computer it reads through all the stored information. At some time most computers have crashed or frozen and then refused to work, this has happened because somewhere inside them, in a place often not visible to the eye, one of the files has become corrupted or misplaced. Like the computer, if a traumatic life event, challenge or setback has happened to an individual, their brain (like the hard drive) gets stuck thinking about it. This can take place on a subconscious level so the person is not even aware of where the problem comes from. The brain will re-read it or misplace it causing the client to feel troubled; they may have flashbacks, nightmares, sleep issues, daytime intrusive memories and distressing internal voices.

~ Why do people remember bad things and have nightmares or flashbacks?

Often with high end trauma the client is not able to name or externalise the event and so it essentially just keeps getting replayed inside their brain as it has not been given a context or a internal narrative that makes sense. Neurologically the bad events have become stuck in the old reptilian part of the brain instead of being processed and stored by the higher mammalian brain. This can leave someone feeling too defeated, anxious or overwhelmed or too full of feelings to even think clearly. It is this state that we can work through in therapy. This is like restarting a computer, clearing the hard drive and reformatting the machine. The brain then begins to work more smoothly and function better.

Here’s an example: if a person was in a room and a lion rushed in and attacked the person next to them and then left, the person would probably suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and be unable to describe the experience, going into shock every time they tried. They may also develop a phobia or panic attacks in reaction to things that are yellow like the lion, cats (like the lion), being in small rooms and maybe even doors and other things that were linked to the attack, such as a blue carpet or a clock ticking.
After processing the trauma they may understand that perhaps that day a lion escaped from a zoo and this is how the unusual tragedy occurred. Their brain will understand that it was a lion and their fear of things connected to the attack will become less powerful as their rational mind also begins to think on it.

~ If I can't find words or remember properly how can I explain it to you?

We can use art materials including drawing, figure making and sand and a CBT approach called CATT. These therapies help name and explore high-end trauma so the client is not overwhelmed. The use of arts in therapy is an intervention that provides the opportunity for non-verbal expression and communication. Art is a non-threatening way to visually communicate anything that is too painful to put into words. It is not about being able to draw. It is about exploring a different way to help you express your feelings.

Often victims of sexual abuse or other trauma have been lied to, threatened, or misled with words by their abusers or other adults whom they trusted. Words have become misleading and mistrusted, and strictly verbal approaches to therapy may meet with resistance. Since most people are used to communicating in words and not images, their grasp of non-verbal communication is less sophisticated than spoken languages; therefore, they have fewer established defence patterns.

CATT was originally called Children’s Accelerated Trauma treatment but is now also used with adults after being used to help Rwandan genocide survivors. These therapies help name and explore high-end trauma so the client is not overwhelmed by instinct and feeling. The therapy helps the client find space in which to talk more conventionally and to consider their thinking patterns and emotional reactions. Clients do sometimes return to the artwork to explore or externalise new details which are often included within the creation at first disclosure (i.e. “this figure is being hurt” – not naming self as victim).
Clients often begin to name the feelings that were suppressed or frozen during the event. They begin to accept the reality of events.

Obviously this requires building a relationship between the client and therapist so that the client does not feel overwhelmed within the room. I have extensive experience using these techniques with adults and young people specifically in the areas of sexual abuse and high level of dissociation following long term work within MOSAC (working with sexually abused young people), One in Four (working with adult survivors of abuse) and both privately and for the Clinic of Dissociative studies.
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