In the last blog, we explored some of the effects people may experience after being exposed to trauma in childhood. When someone experiences trauma early on, they can miss out on learning important skills such as calming the nervous system and how to function in relationships. When someone is in survival mode, surviving takes precedence and everything else is put on the back burner. As mentioned previously, trauma can create issues in the ability to modulate emotions, relational anxiety, and self-destructive behaviors.
What Are The Goals of Trauma Therapy?
- Addressing issues of childhood trauma. This step includes psychoeducation around what trauma is and the effects trauma can have on someone. This may also include identifying symptoms that cause distress and working on a plan to alleviate them.
- Feeling safe in one’s body. Trauma is about being at war with one’s body. Trauma recovery includes learning to self soothe and learning to feel safe within oneself and the world. By learning to self soothe, we can begin to alleviate the need for self-destructive behaviors.
- Building a support network. Trauma can be a very isolating experience for people. Fear and anxiety can keep people from wanting to engage with others and feeling safe to take risks in relationships. Group therapy can be an invaluable experience for trauma survivors as it challenges isolation and allows survivors to begin forming relationships in a structured and safe environment
- Increasing Tolerance and Resilience. Often trauma can create emotions so unpleasant that we try anything to avoid them. Anger is a good example of an emotion that can be frightening for trauma survivors. I always like to educate people on the difference between anger and violence because they are not the same thing. Anger is a useful and essential emotion for survival and when channeled appropriately, it allows us to be assertive and maintain boundaries with others. A therapist can help someone work through anger in a safe and contained setting. By exposing ourselves to painful emotions in a contained setting, we can begin increasing out resiliency and tolerance.
- Safe Attachment. Attachment can feel like a frightening experience when someone has been abused, particularly by a caregiver who was supposed to protect him or her. Therapy can provide people with a safe place to experience a healthy attachment. Nurturing relationships can be an invaluable tool for trauma recovery.
- Separating the past from the present. One issue with trauma is it’s not just something that’s happened in the past. It’s something that continues to be played out today in someone’s body and relationships. Being able to separate the past from the present and form new narratives is essential for recovery. Bessel van der Kolk explains that the sense of being overwhelmed can only be mastered when the link between past trauma and current perceptions become understood.
What Are Some Tools I Can Use At Home?
While therapy can be an essential part of healing and trauma recovery, sometimes people find it beneficial to have skills they can utilize at home when they are not in sessions. Below are some skills that I often recommend to patients to practice at home:
- Meditation- this tool is particularly effective for helping to calm the nervous system and become more present. There are several apps such as Insight Timer and Headspace that provide guided meditations.
- Somatic Awareness Log- This is a great tool to help complement therapy. By filling out a daily log that includes triggering situations, thoughts, feelings and emotions, and body sensations, we can gain more information and target situations to work through.
- Grounding- This involves using our 5 senses to experience what is happening in the moment. Often anxiety is past or future based so by becoming present in the moment, we can learn to regulate our bodies and become more aware of our experiences.
If you are struggling with healing after trauma and would like to know more about Shannon’s services, contact her today for a free consultation.
Bio: Shannon McHenry is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a specialty focus in childhood trauma, rape and battering, and PTSD. She is a trauma therapist in Los Angeles and works with clients in her offices in Los Feliz and Torrance. Combining clinical experience with a passion to support women in repairing their relationships with themselves and others, she has supported many to create a long-lasting recovery from destructive behaviors. Call Shannon today to book your first appointment.