therapy and trauma TREATMENT IN PIMLICO, LONDON
Old unresolved traumas can keep us locked in the past, making it very hard for us to lead satisfying lives in the present, as we become stuck in old ways of thinking and behaving that no longer serve us. We now know that these behaviours are not the result of moral failings or signs of lack of willpower or bad character, they are caused by actual changes in the brain. Understanding how these traumatic imprints on the mind, body and soul continue to affect us in our day to day lives, is an important part of the healing process.
Before I trained as a psychotherapist, when I heard the word trauma I typically thought of horrifying violations such as childhood sexual abuse, rape, physical violence and brutality, I also thought of shocking sudden events, like car crashes and natural disasters. The distressing psychological and physiological impacts from such events are typically classified as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I didn’t know about the subtle yet pervasive ways in which we may also come to experience trauma in our earliest developmental years growing up as babies and young children and how these experiences can have far reaching effects into our adult lives.
Nowadays, I understand trauma to also be a process; a cumulative experience of having felt powerless, helpless, unseen, unmet and unvalidated. This experience can often start in our earliest pre verbal lives as babies and toddlers and as such, are often impossible to remember cognitively, however, our bodies remember these early experiences in the form of implicit somatic memory. Its at this point, as our brains and minds are developing, that we come to internalise these earliest experiences growing up - we may begin to develop an intrinsic sense, felt deeply in our bones, of being bad, wrong or unlovable, or unworthy of being attended to and cared for - and these internalised experiences begin to inform our core identities, subsequently organising how we feel about ourselves and how we act in the world. Our brain becomes hardwired and our bodies imprinted, and, as a result, we can find ourselves as adults feeling stuck in the past, unable to move beyond negative and destructive patterns of behaviour/thinking, we may feel unsatisfied, lost, distrustful, swamped by anxiety and depression, directionless and we may also feel hyper vigilant to threat and danger.
Traumatic events and longer term developmental and attachment relational traumas can seriously interfere with our brain and bodies natural process of self regulation; the organisms ability to identify its needs, get them met, then returning to its original state of equilibrium until the next need arises. Psychological problems occur when this process no longer works, when our internal signals - such as our instinct, our knowledge about what we need and want - become blurred and hazy and no longer direct us to where we need to go in the present moment. We become too paralysed to move, our actions do not correspond with our needs and we may find our relationships breaking down and too difficult to maintain. These are all good indications that at some point in our lives, our sense of agency may well have been compromised or thwarted, leaving us feeling impotent to do anything to protect or help ourselves.
How can therapy help?
The good news is, that for the past few decades a wealth of research has taken place, giving us advanced information about the effects of trauma on the brain, mind, body and spirit and what we can do to heal it. The scientists leading this research are extolling the virtues of approaches such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness, creative expression and physical movement alongside talking therapies. In my work with clients, I integrate all of these approaches as well as drawing upon my training in neurobiology, somatic experiencing, sensory motor psychotherapy, attachment and developmental theories and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), an innovative clinical treatment effective in treating individuals who have experienced psychological difficulties arising from traumatic experiences.
So whilst many of us may have experienced traumas to varying degrees, either early on as babies and growing up or more recently as adults, in therapy, we can work towards leaving the impacts of our trauma in the past so that it no longer continues to dictate our lives in the present.