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).
10 Replies to “Overcoming trauma – a transpersonal roadmap”
Thank you: this is generously,beautifully and simply put.
It can be hard to stay confident when working with the vicissitudes of complex trauma…..
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Thank you so much for this post Katy. What a breath of fresh air to read something so clear, concise and helpful.
Amazing. Can’t wait to work with your suggestions!
Best wishes, Emma T
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Thanks Emma let us know how it goes! Glad you found it helpful.
Thanks for this Sis. Although I’m not a therapist in the strictest term of the word, I do like to make art and music that touches people and diverts them from their troubles. My wish is for them to stop and look(or listen, or both in the case of my audiovisual works), to feel a degree of healing. Throughout my life I’ve come across the traumatised, the damaged, more so in the last decade as I’ve ramped up my creative practise alongside my spell dealing with the public while working in an emergency services call centre. Your piece is a useful insight that I can apply to my creative work.
Lovely piece, thank you Katy.
I think there’s a bit more to it than that, but these are brilliant principles to start with – thank you for spreading the word among transpersonal psychotherapists.
Well Mary-Clare your work is very focussed on this side of things, (and anyone interested would to well to check out your work ‘The Missing Piece’). My concern here is, as you have correctly observed, to raise awareness and spread the word about addressing these issues, and to get people reading some of the basic texts. I am hoping we can raise the volume on the conversation about all of this. Thanks for commenting M-C! x
Here is the link to Mary- Clare’s 2018 courses on healing complex trauma http://www.primarylight.co.uk/courses-weekends/ for those that are interested in taking this learning further in a workshop environment.
Thank you! M-C
Hi Katy, thank you for your email. Yes, that’s exactly why I commented – to continue the conversation by saying ‘this is brilliant – and there’s more out there’. I’d recommend to everyone that they read Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, as I think you do. Thank you for starting the conversation here. X