Here are four easy principles for working with complex trauma – your own and your clients’ traumas. If you follow these principles you will not go far wrong. This is based on the work of Bessel van de Kolk, and David Emerson. The reason I have posted this is to begin to address the growing sense of anxiety and diminishment of confidence about working with trauma. An integrative therapist can and should be working with trauma – this is how.
A word of clarification – complex trauma is the term given to an accumulation of difficult experiences over time, which disrupt the person’s capacity to experience normal cycles of arousal and rest. Where the ‘trauma’ is much more of a single event there are other interventions which can be of great benefit and which work on that specific event. This post is about complex trauma.
- Encourage present moment awareness. Bring the therapy in to the here and now, work with breath, presence, and conscious in-the-room-nowness. In trauma we are whisked out of ourselves and our present moment – tackling trauma involves rebuilding faith in the present moment.
- Encourage choice. Do not made decisions for your client. In trauma choice seems to be removed, we feel we lack choice about what happens to us. So in tacking trauma we need to restore the truth that we have choices.
- Get in to action. In trauma we ‘freeze’. Tackle this by taking an action. You feel hot? take of your jumper. You have a tickle in your throat? Cough. These basic actions (and look how basic they are!) are about taking ACTION to change your circumstances. Working like this with trauma means we are addressing the freeze.
- Foster rhythm. Humans are rhythmic beings and trauma bounces us out of rhythm. Get back to rhythm. Think heart rhythm. Think breath. Think routine. Keep stable weekly appointments. Boundaries, rhythms, and this will correct the crazy.
And that is how you work with trauma. Be generous and loving. Be kind. Remember that it is scary. But take these four principles to the heart of your work with trauma and people will recover. Really they will. What you don’t want to do is just operate a flimsy talking therapy which ignores these basic principles. Present moment, choice, action, rhythm.
How is this a transpersonal roadmap? I use the expression because there is a lot of confusion about how transpersonal work only works with energies which can often seem to be quite disembodied. Disembodied work will NOT work with trauma, either specific trauma or complex trauma. The only way to make any kind of effective and safe intervention with trauma work is to restore a sense of whole-being embodied presence in the moment. Restoring a sense of being an embodied being. That is what this road map seeks to do. So this is transpersonal work par excellence.
Present moment, choice, action, rhythm. Be calm. Be reassuring. You can do this.
Emerson, D., & Hopper, E. (2011). Overcoming trauma through yoga: Reclaiming your body. Berkeley, Calif: North Atlantic Books.
Van, . K. B. A., Pratt, S., Gildan Media Corporation., & Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma (this ref is for an audio version of this classic).