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Understanding Trauma: How Counseling Can Help You Heal and Thrive

An individual wanting to understand trauma therapy and how counseling can help them heal

What is Trauma? 

Trauma is a very popular concept we hear about these days. Therapists are talking about it, it’s all over social media, you even hear the idea thrown around in casual conversation. But what is trauma? And is it a really new idea, or are you just now catching up? 

Trauma isn’t a new concept. For instance, the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) viewed trauma as a stimulus which overwhelmed an organism’s ability to manage it within itself. This applied to trees which were struck by lightning all the way to people who experience emotional neglect in their childhood. 

In recent years, and especially with the work of people like Peter Levine and Bessel van der Kolk, ‘trauma’ has entered both clinical and layperson conversation at a scale Freud wouldn’t have thought possible. But we’re still basically committed to Freud’s original theory: a person or body who experiences something which overwhelms it. 

What Happens After Trauma

What happens after that original moment of stimuli is very dependent on the specific context and kind of person affected. Thinking about Freud again, the idea is generally that the person will adapt around the traumatic event, with the idea or memory of the event itself getting repressed, pushed away from conscious thought. 

Repression is required because the event, by definition, is too overwhelming. If a person were to be conscious of it all the time, everyday life would be impossible. 

When you repress contents (like memories or ideas), other things have to take their place. This might look like defenses, insecurities, wishes, or fears. Both aspects (repression and what takes it place) are important to consider when you are engaged in trauma therapy. 

The ways in which your defenses or symptoms take the place of the original trauma can be immensely confusing at first. You may be tempted to ask: “Why do I keep doing this if it hurts? Why can’t I just be vulnerable with others?” and so on. Without understanding, with compassion, where and why these things have taken the form they have taken, you are apt to become frustrated. 

Human beings are immensely complex, and require a lot of compassion and patience to gain any headway in understanding. Trauma reveals the complexity in its most intense form.

How Counseling Can Help with Trauma

Therapy can help your trauma by working with the two registers of post-traumatic stress as mentioned above: the traumatic event and what replaces the direct knowledge of the traumatic event. 

Let’s start with the latter. For many years now therapists have known that defenses can’t be rushed through or deconstructed immediately. In addiction counseling, there is a term called “rolling with resistance” or “dancing with dissonance” that captures this approach. Instead, you and your therapist must remain patient with yourself.

There are very good reasons for each of your defensive mechanisms or insecurity: they are protecting the person from an overwhelming confrontation with trauma. So rather than seeking to explode defensive mechanisms altogether, you and your therapist will work to understand them and what they are telling you. And then together you will work on constructing new and less painful coping mechanisms. For instance, instead of drinking to soothe a panic attack, try to apply ice or do breathing exercises. 

While this approach is important, it does not address the trauma itself. While there is obviously no “need” to address one’s basic traumas, it can help them from popping up again elsewhere. If the therapist’s approach is only to replace painful coping mechanisms with less painful ones, there really isn’t anything stopping these defenses from ceasing altogether to work one day. It is entirely possible that a defensive or coping mechanism will lose its compelling force, and you could be overwhelmed by the trauma once more. 

Addressing the trauma in itself is helpful for multiple reasons. Granted that you are now more stable with more effective coping mechanisms, your therapy will move to a patient unraveling and processing of the traumatic event. Uncovering details is important, as it brings an objective light to the circumstance, and helps you understand more about yourself. 

Processing the feelings that come up in the moment is another important component of trauma therapy. Feelings surrounding a traumatic event have a tendency to remain “stuck” in the context of the event. This is a result of the repression we discussed earlier. Processing these feelings as they come up during a conversation is an effective way to “un-stuck” those feelings, to allow them some room to breathe and to move around again. 

If you feel that you have some trauma or some bamboozling behaviors that you think stem from somewhere and would like to address them in counseling, reach out to to schedule a free consultation. 

These experiences and emotions that result from them can be immensely painful and decentering. But therapy can help!

How We Can Help

If you are looking for general support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you, follow these simple steps:

  1. Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation

  2. Or, you can book directly online with the therapist of your choice

  3. Begin your journey towards a calmer, more relaxed life

Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:

Author Biography

A therapist for Catalyss Counseling

Sean Carroll is a student intern and a provider for the affordable counseling program at Catalyss Counseling. He works with men, anxious adults, and those seeking improved relationships to become “unstuck” and get to the root of the problem, so you can focus on the things in your life that are meaningful. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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03. Juli


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