Is There An Experience From Your Past You Just Can’t Let Go Of?
Do you feel too emotionally stuck to move forward in life? Is there an unaddressed or traumatic experience that prevents you from living moment-to-moment? Maybe you feel like you experienced trauma, but you’re not entirely sure. Although your experience impairs your ability to focus on the present, you may tell yourself, "Others have it worse than me" or "I’m just overreacting."
Unresolved trauma isn’t always easy to recognize. Perhaps you feel chronically overwhelmed or anxious, but you don’t know why. Relaxing is hard because you’re busy over-accomplishing. You may struggle with insomnia, stomach aches, or migraines. Or maybe you feel numb —disconnected from your thoughts, emotions, and actions, as if someone else is living your life. If you suffered from chronic criticism or abuse, you may have a hard time trusting others because you’re afraid of getting hurt again. Or perhaps you feel unworthy, as if you deserve mistreatment and will never be good enough for anyone.
Deep down, you probably wish you could stop ruminating on the past or worrying about the future and live in the present instead. If this is the case, I would be honored to help you find healing and restoration from trauma. As Dr. Peter Levine says, “Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.”
Trauma Is Often The Result Of Unprocessed Pain Trapped in the Nervous System
There are two major types of trauma: “Big T” and “Little t.” The “Big T” traumas are the big events that shock your nervous system. Some examples include a car accident, natural disaster, sexual abuse, or witnessing a violent event, all of which can keep you in a state of constant fear and heightened autonomic arousal.
Experiences that cause “Little t” trauma, meanwhile, are much subtler and easier to overlook. Examples of “Little t” trauma include chronic illness, family dysfunction, painful divorce, losing a pet, child neglect, or growing up with verbally or emotionally abusive parents. These wounding experiences are the little paper cuts in life that build up over time and affect your self-esteem. They may not cause PTSD symptoms, but they can affect you just as negatively as “Big T” trauma can. In fact, exposure to “Little t” traumas over a long period of time can cause more emotional harm than one “Big T” traumatic event.
Essentially, traumatization happens when a harmful experience overwhelms your nervous system and you lack the resources to cope. As a result, you may be tempted to minimize the event or push it out of your mind completely. Because remembering the event can be re-traumatizing, your body is designed to hold onto the experience until your mind has the resources and opportunity to process it safely. Until this processing happens, your body is prevented from releasing the emotional and physical tension surrounding your experience of the event, as well as the self-beliefs that were consequently formed. As a result, you may find yourself constantly avoiding situations that could re-traumatize you or make you confront your pain.
In the short term, avoiding stressful scenarios can prevent anxiety. But in the long run, it can lead to unfulfilling relationships and cause you to pass up chances for growth. This is why it’s so essential to seek help. Counseling is a chance to overcome your stressors and heal the wounding impressions that trauma has left on your world.
What does trauma therapy look like or entail?
Although my approach to trauma and PTSD therapy varies from client to client, treatment typically follows a series of stages.
Stage 1: History & Psychoeducation. When you begin trauma therapy, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and confused by what’s happening inside of you. I will provide psychoeducation about how the symptoms you’re experiencing are in fact normal and expected responses to painful events. Psychoeducation is sprinkled throughout the entire healing process, so you understand what’s coming up for you and why certain interventions are being used.
Stage 2: Resourcing & Exploring Parts-of-Self. Resourcing is the fun, feel-good part of therapy. It uses mindfulness-based activities to balance your nervous system and return you to a more embodied state (i.e., feeling connected to your body and anchored in the present moment). Depending on what your nervous system needs, we can either pursue calming or energizing activities. For instance, if you’re feeling tense and anxious, calming and soothing resources will be used. And if you’re feeling depleted or shut-down, restorative or energizing resources will be used.
The two main approaches I utilize for resourcing are Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP). EMDR resourcing uses bilateral stimulation to facilitate nervous system regulation. For instance, I may guide you through visualization techniques and use alternating hand taps or horizontal eye movements to install new resources for dealing with trauma. In Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, I will utilize somatic resourcing and soothing techniques so that your body itself can be an anchor for regulating the nervous system. For instance, experimenting with different movements, postures, breathing patterns, or even words and images can help you find your center and feel grounded.
Along with resourcing, I also draw from an approach called Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy. At its core, this method seeks to understand the parts of yourself that hold memories, thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and how those parts are triggered in different scenarios. We will identify what these parts of yourself need, what they protect you from, and how they are trying to help you. Read more about my approach to working with self-parts.
Stage 3: Trauma Processing. Once sufficient resourcing is done and all parts of yourself are on board, we will begin to work with memories using an integration of EMDR, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and IFS techniques. These methods will help you release the physical tension bound up in the nervous system as well as the limiting beliefs and insecurities that hold you back in life. In time, you will gain more control over your stress reactions and feel more like your true self again.
You may have some questions about trauma and PTSD therapy…
I don’t remember my traumatic experience very well, so why do I need to address it?
You don’t have to know or share all the details of your trauma history. To quote Peter Levine, “You don’t have to know the facts of your story to be able to reprogram the symptoms or outcomes.” What we’re after is the experience your body remembers—the nonverbal, intense survival energy and defensive responses that were thwarted at the time the trauma occurred and which remain lodged in your body. The goals are to help you release suppressed emotions and physical sensations and reduce the pain your memories created rather than focusing on the memories themselves.
How could I have trauma? My childhood was normal and uneventful.
Trauma is not defined by what happened to you, but by how your nervous system reacted to it. Even if your experience seems insignificant, processing it in a safe, systematic way can help you let go of unhelpful patterns and establish healthier ways of living.
I’m afraid of reliving my trauma.
We will never move faster than the most scared part of you is willing to. Slowing down and working with small bits of memory at a time is necessary. After all, the instinctive/survival parts of the brain take more time to process what happened than the cognitive parts of the brain. And before you and I get anywhere close to trauma work, we will spend ample time resourcing your nervous system and identifying all the parts of you that may be in conflict (e.g., the part of you that’s eager to start the trauma work versus the part that’s afraid to).
Learn To Live In A More Peaceful, Embodied State Of Existence
The overall goal of therapy is to help you tap into your Higher Self—the essence of who you truly were before trauma and social conditioning took place. If there’s an experience from your past that you just can’t let go of, trauma therapy with Higher Self Psychotherapy can help you release tension in both your mind and body while empowering you to live a joyful, fulfilling life. To get started, you can email me to set up a free, 20-minute video consultation.
Right now, due to COVID-19, all trauma and PTSD counseling sessions are held via telehealth.