Psychotherapy and Counselling In Brighton and Hove Steffi Bednarek   MA   BA   MBACP

Trauma Psychotherapy and Counselling

Psychological trauma is an emotional and physical survival response to a severely distressing and overwhelming situation where there was not enough support available to the individual to integrate the experience and return to a state of internal safety. Not everyone who has experienced trauma will be traumatised. Trauma remains in our bodies if there was a need to compartmentalise the experience. In that sense trauma is in no way a sign of internal defectiveness, but a remarkable creative adjustment to an overwhelming situation. 

People who still grapple with past trauma can experience unpredictable emotions, anxiety, strained relationships and physical symptoms. The brain still operates in survival mode, which can lead to hypervigilance, shame, constantly being braced for danger, feeling numb, angry and combative or frozen in fear. For some clients the traumatic events are being re-experienced as if they were happening in the present. How severe these symptoms are depends on the person, their history, the type of trauma involved, and the emotional support they receive from others.

We speak of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) when the body and mind have not yet recognised that a traumatic incident is over. As a result, the body’s nervous system responds by continuously activating the body for a fight/flight or freeze response. Clients may suffer from dissociation, fragmentation, self-alienation, flashbacks, panic attacks or re-traumatisation.  This prevents the person from getting closure and experiencing safety and relief.

“If the elements of trauma are replayed again and again, the accompanying stress hormones engrave those memories even more deeply into the mind. Ordinary, day-to-day events become less and less compelling. Not being able to deeply take in what is going on around us makes it impossible to feel fully alive. It becomes harder to feel the joys and aggravations of ordinary life, harder to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Not being fully alive in the present keeps us more firmly imprisoned in the past’ (Van Der Kolk, 2014, p.67)

Somatic Trauma Therapy

I had the good fortune of training for 2 years with Babette Rothschild, a leading expert in somatic trauma psychotherapy. Later I also had other teachers and mentors and learnt from them either in direct contact or from webinars, such as Peter Levine, Dan Siegel, Pat Ogden and recently Janina Fischer.

Somatic Trauma Therapy is a body oriented approach of working with traumatised clients . This does not mean any direct physical intervention, but paying attention to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, sensual awareness and grounding techniques that anchor the person in their whole bodily experience in the here and now. 

Clients don’t need to re-enter the most traumatic time of their lives and painfully ‘work through it’. These are old ideas that don’t often lead to a better quality of life. In fact the process of remembering and talking about events in the past in detail frequently leads to a re-living of it and, rather than resolving the traumatic past, clients often become increasingly symptomatic rather than at peace. 

Somatic trauma therapy believes that trauma treatment needs to treat the effects of traumatic situations, not its events. Learning to tolerate to remember and talk about an overwhelming experience is not as important as feeling safe and connected in the here and now. What I focus on in trauma therapy are ways to bring reassurance and self-compassion to the parts of oneself that get scared in day-to-day living.

Somatic trauma therapy focusses on developing ‘trauma brakes’ as a first priority. Trauma brakes are techniques based on neurobiology and body therapy that help clients gain more control of the seemingly out of control  re-experiencing of past feelings or sensations. This is an important first step that brings relief to many clients. The next step is to open up the path towards safety, comfort and self-compassion. The aim is for the client to be able to live with what has happened to them, to connect with the vulnerable parts of them that often needed to be left behind in order for some part of them to function in ordinary life - and to build safe attachment bonds with inner parts as well as in real life. 

Of course this journey is not fast and straightforward. Many parts in us will understandably be invested in keeping things as they are, as our coping mechanisms assured our survival, however disruptive these defence strategies may seem. Trauma therapy is a gradual process with each individual walking at their own pace. It is my role to support this movement towards safety and we will walk at your pace.