Mt Lawley Counselling Centre, Perth - Western AustraliaMt Lawley Counselling Centre, Perth - Western Australia

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How Therapy can help Trauma

Sandra Manessis

Psychologist, Counsellor & Psychotherapist
Perth, Western Australia

Humans suffer from an large range of emotional problems and challenges, and there are many reasons people seek out therapy. Many, but by no means all, of these problems can be traced to early developmental or single event trauma in later life. These forms of trauma disrupt our sense of self and self-esteem, our ability to manage our emotions, and unsettle automatic bodily functions such as sleeping or eating patterns. Chronic generalized anxiety, panic attacks, compulsive behaviour, depression, and addiction are some of the more common symptoms of our bodily system losing a state of regulation.

DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA

For those of us who have experienced difficult or traumatic childhoods, how we have learned to feel about ourselves and to perceive the world, may have been compromised in a number of ways.

There are five biologically based core needs that are essential to our physical and emotional well- being.

  1. All children need to feel connected to themselves and to their caregivers (connection)
  2. They require loving attunement to their needs and emotions (attunement)
  3. They need to feel supported to feel safe in their dependence as well as their independence (trust)
  4. They need attuned acceptance of their developing sexuality and loving relationships in order to integrate their capacity to love (love-sexuality)
  5. They need to learn to set boundaries (autonomy)

To the degree that a child's core needs are attuned to and reasonably met, they feel safe, trusting of the world, and connected to their bodily and emotional selves. As adults they develop core capacities that allow them to recognize and meet these needs. As a result, they experience internal organization, expansion, connection and aliveness and in this way can be deeply connected to their resources and vitality.

However when a biologically based core need is not met, psychological and physiological symptoms typically result: self-regulation, sense of self and self-esteem are upset. An adaptive survival style is assumed, and these survival styles are ways of coping with the disconnection, dysregulation, disorganization, and isolation that a child experiences when core needs are not met. As adults, the more these adaptive survival styles dominate our lives, the more disconnected from our bodies, the more distorted our sense of identity becomes, and the less we are able to recognize ourselves.

HOW THERAPY CAN HELP WITH DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA

When we are children, we assume that we grow up in an environment that is normal. How we make sense of the world, and how we relate to others and ourselves, is based on our early experiences. This meaning making process becomes habitual, so the way in which we process events in our lives becomes automatic and out of conscious awareness. This process can continue unchanged into adulthood.

We all unconsciously repeat patterns, and our at times dysfunctional and harmful behavior and thoughts can become familiar and comfortable. Once our processing of the meaning of events is outside our awareness, we have no choice except to continue to repeat the same responses.

Therapy is about bringing back into conscious awareness how we make meaning in our lives. Once we start to see and understand how we have been doing this, we have choices again. Having choices enables us to change and develop different thoughts, patterns of behavior, and feelings.Thoughts and beliefs about past events, that in turn define our behavior and sense of self in the present, can be re-examined in a more rational, and adult way. This process helps to re-define our sense of self, and our relationship with the world. This action changes our behavior and in turn what we bring into our lives.

Therapy is also about learning to be self-supporting, managing while experiencing emotions so that we neither distract from, nor are overwhelmed by our feelings. The therapist offers support and acceptance that is without condition, an experience that helps to model and encourage the development of our own capacity to be self supportive.

SHOCK TRAUMA

Shock trauma refers to the impact of a devastating incident, such as an unexpected threat to life, death of a loved one, or being a victim of crime. These events can leave us frozen in fear, and in time. A diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be given.

The goal of the fight-flght response is to prepare us to defend ourselves in a situation of threat or to run away if we cannot defend ourselves. This response is turned on by high arousal in one part of the nervous system as it prepares the body for self-protection and survival. Another part of the nervous system tries to modulate this dangerously high level of arousal. This combined response can produce a freeze response. We typically experience anxiety, depression, dissociation, and isolation. We may experience a state of hopelessness, together with hypervigilance (scanning the environment even when the external threat is no longer present).

HOW THERAPY CAN HELP WITH SHOCK TRAUMA

Therapy can help complete this frozen biological response, and return us to a normal, non-traumatised state by supporting the development of skill-building techniques that bring organization and regulation to impaired functioning.The way that we have interpreted our sensory experience can be reflected upon in a more rational and calm way. By exploring the links between our current, conscious experience and our unconscious memories, our capacity for regulation is supported.

Please contact Sandra on 0407 859 413 or email sandra.manessis@gmail.com if you would like further information, or to make an appointment.

Mt Lawley Counselling Centre
13 Alvan Street
Mt Lawley (Perth) WA 6050

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