Supporting Your Clients Through TraumaMar 05, 2022
As the Covid pandemic continues to impact our lives, and the recent developments in Ukraine cause us to question what the future may hold, trauma is on the rise.
When we experience something distressing, scary or extremely stressful, trauma is a natural consequence. People can be affected by trauma at any stage in their lives, and it may be days, months, or even years before the full effects of trauma are felt. It’s also extremely personal, and two people experiencing the same trauma can react very differently.
Events that cause people to feel threatened, frightened, ashamed, humiliated, trapped, unsupported, rejected, at risk, powerless, abandoned or invalidated are most likely to lead to trauma. These situations can range from personally experiencing harm, seeing someone else harmed, living in a traumatic environment, or being exposed to a single or ongoing traumatic event.
Trauma can also relate to aspects of a person’s identity, such as their race, gender, or sexuality.
Everyone has a different response to trauma, and so the treatments can vary just as widely: from talking therapies and arts and creative therapies, to medication and crisis services, treating trauma rarely conforms to a one-size-fits-all solution. The key is in encouraging your clients to keep an open mind, and to understand that what works for them may change over time.
Different Types of Trauma Therapy
These are some of the most common treatment types for trauma:
- Body-focused therapies: These therapies address the impact of trauma on the body, as well as the mind. You can find more information about this type of therapy on the following websites:
- Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR encourages clients to make rhythmic eye movements while recalling a traumatic experience. This is most commonly used in the treatment of PTSD. You can read more at: EMDR UK & Ireland.
- Trauma-focused CBT: This type of cognitive behavioural therapy is specifically tailored to address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT): This type of treatment explores how past events and even relationships can influence thoughts, feelings and actions. You can read more at: Association for Cognitive Analytic Therapy (ACAT).
- Schema therapy: This therapy is adapted to address unmet needs, along with any unhelpful beliefs a person may have about themselves. Find out more on the Schema Therapy Institute website.
- Arts and creative therapies: Creating a therapeutic space where clients can express themselves through art, music or drama can be effective as a treatment for trauma. This type of therapy can be particularly powerful for people who struggle to express themselves through talking therapies.
Talking therapies can provide people with a safe space to explore their feelings and talk through any related behaviours or consequences. But one of the most important aspects of successfully managing trauma through talking therapies, regardless of type, is the strength of relationship between client and therapist.
Trauma Informed Care
If you’re offering trauma informed care to your clients, there are certain principles you should always follow:
- You’ll need to understand the different ways that trauma can affect a person, and the wider impact this can have on their mental health.
- You must be sensitive when asking about past trauma, and offer appropriate support if a client confides in you.
- You should always be transparent with your clients in the treatment that you’re providing.
Delivering mental health services without a solid grounding in trauma awareness can create serious problems for your clients, so it’s vital you undertake relevant training.
Supporting people through their own trauma can also have an impact on you, their therapist. Your job is very emotionally demanding, and while you delight in helping your clients, it’s also important to look after your own mental health and overall wellbeing.
Secondary trauma comes from listening to somebody else retell details of their own trauma; it’s not only therapists who experience secondary trauma, but it is more common amongst therapists. The nature of your job means that you often absorb the information your client is giving you.
You should take time to make sure you understand the personal risks of providing trauma support, familiarise yourself with the warning signs that you may be experiencing secondary trauma, practice regular self-care, talk to other therapists who can relate to what you’re going through, see your own therapist for support, and continue your training to enable you to grow in confidence.
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This is the same presentation I was invited to deliver at this year’s BACP Annual Online conference.
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