What is trauma anyway?

“What do you mean, trauma?

I don’t have a trauma history

…..do I?”

Just about every day, or at least several times a week, I find myself having to explain what I mean by trauma. People tend to picture terrible car accidents, fires, war, and other dramatic examples worthy of the TV and on-line news. And yes, while these ARE traumatic experiences that get talked about in my therapy room and would be traumatic for most people, this is not what first comes to mind for me when I begin talking to people about trauma. Instead, I generally start here…

“Trauma means that something happened that exceeded your ability to cope with it well in that moment.”

That’s it. Something that was just too much. Ever experience something like that? Of course you have. So have I. Trauma comes in many shapes and sizes. What is an obvious trauma to one person may seem “not so bad”, “she was so little she probably doesn’t even remember”, “what’s the big deal, I’ve seen much worse”, etc. It’s not that people mean to be unkind (well, most people most of the time anyway). It’s just that we tend to overestimate our ability to deeply know/understand someone else’s experience. One thing I have taken in over the years on my road of development as a trauma therapist has been to validate to my client the uniqueness and value of their own experience…..and to believe what I was saying in every way. Why add that last bit? Because as a newly minted MSW about 20+ years ago I thought I was a really good listener, naturally empathetic, with a heart for helping that could only aid me as I dove head first into gaining clinical experience. Sounds ridiculously naive? It does to me today. And I am certain tomorrow me will most likely feel that same way about today me again…..next week even.

This is one of the reasons I am writing this blog. I want other therapists on this journey to know they are in good company. You will feel like a screw up. You will sometimes think you know more than you do, miss openings, lack skills, and you will learn from these uncomfortable moments…..and then repeat making different mistakes and learning from those….AS LONG AS YOU PRACTICE. It’s NOT: until you earn your next advanced license, publish, have a waiting list, are seen as an “expert” in some way….The truth is that the humbling moments where you learn more about yourself and how to be of better service to your clients will continue indefinitely.

If this is not happening for you or if you are feeling like these experiences are not helping you grow and find more joy in practicing as a therapist, it is time to do some deep self care. Burn-out is real. Vicarious trauma is real.  Sometimes the answer lies in finding ways to lighten your clinical load or diversify your caseload. Sometimes it becomes important to find private outside supervision to help you work out the feelings and/or numbness that can creep up after years of tending to and hearing about significant harm. 

Well, it looks like my talking about “what do you mean, trauma?” turned into an appeal to my fellow therapists to take their own well being into better consideration. This is likley because it is something I am focused on for myself in 2023. Since that’s where I landed today, here are a few resources for that.

Dr. Arielle Schwartz PhD is pretty amazing. If you would like to explore your own mind/body connection as a therapist, she is one of my favorite trainers. She is also a fantastically humble, kind, and knowledgeable human. https://artoflivingretreatcenter.org/event/faculty/dr-arielle-schwartz/beyond-trauma/utm_source=Faculty&utm_medium=Referral&utm_campaign=Arielle+Schwartz+Referral

If running off to an amazing training isn’t in the cards just now, consider connecting with a therapist/consultant. I provide EMDR Consultation for EMDR trained therapists, Mentorship for therapists learning to use the SSP (Safe and Sound Protocol) in their clinical practices, and General Professional Consultation for therapists who could use a confidential space to unpack and examine their own journey providing therapy and growing in their clinical practices. You can reach me at lbelanger@willowintegrative.com. There are many seasoned clinicians out there willing to make time for our colleagues. Don’t be afraid to reach out, even to the authors/trainers you admire most, for consultation. I do this myself often.

Lastly, because I am new to blogging and think I may have already gone on too long…. check out Unyte.com. Unyte is the company that owns the SSP (Safe and Sound Protocol), The Safe and Sound Protocol is an evidence-based therapeutic tool designed to reset the nervous system and return it to safety. It’s designed to work with other therapeutic approaches and modalities. The SSP features specially filtered music that stimulates the vagus nerve. This is a great resource both for clients and for therapists themselves.

Unyte | Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)

I hope you enjoyed my first ever attempt at blogging! Feedback is welcome, as I hope to share some of my favorite books, websites, on-line communities, tools, and hopefully helpful & entertaining thoughts going forward. Sending care, Laurie.

Your friendly neighborhood
trauma therapist

Published by Laurie Belanger LCSWR

Trauma Therapist, EMDR Consultant, and Trauma Educator.

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