Anna Fowke Counselling
"Anna is always talking about this trauma-informed thing..."
Why do I bang on so much about trauma and trauma-informed care I hear you ask. That's because so many of us have experienced some form of trauma in our lives. Sometimes that means we may have reactions to things which we do not understand or we see as problematic or frightening. It can also mean we live with shame or guilt or both and we might feel like we are not like the people around us. This is just not true, many people experience trauma and its effects. Let's first define trauma.
The word trauma comes from the Greek word for wound. The Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) write beautifully about Trauma, so I will include here some of their words. "Trauma is the lasting emotional response often resulting from a distressing event. Experiencing a traumatic event can harm a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships. Long after the traumatic event, people with trauma can often feel shame, helplessness, powerlessness and intense fear" (CAMH, 2023).
It is tricky for us to define traumatic events as what is traumatic for one person may not be for another. Some feel that we overuse the word trauma and the word trigger. I feel we misuse them at times, but the frequency with which we use them may be appropriate given the level of trauma people experience during their lives. Some obvious examples of trauma are serious crimes or accidents involving the loss of life, or the potential loss of life of a loved one or observing an accident or crime that involves loss of life. Other examples are natural disasters, fires, floods, acts of terrorism or being in a workplace where you are exposed to traumatic events through your work. Sexual trauma is another important area that we need to be able to talk about and help people process and move beyond its effects.
Complex childhood trauma is another term which should be mentioned in this context, at least briefly. This means that a person has been exposed to traumatic experiences early in life and may have developmental trauma. This can sound quite scary, but all it means is that these people have had to come up with ways of coping, which may have taken energy away from other areas. I like to look at this through the lens of awe at a person's resilience and strengths in finding ways of coping. Knowledge and understanding of why we are the way we are, is always the beginning steps to processing our life challenges.
We know that people will react differently to all types of traumatic events, and some people may find it easy to debrief and move along with life without being too affected in the long term. Some of us may react differently and have some ongoing effects. This is not because we are "weaker" or "sensitive" as people sometimes falsely assume. It could be because of aspects of our way of being mean that we may feel things more deeply and process things slowly, or it could be that we have experienced trauma in our early life, which makes us more sensitive to trauma. In fact, there are so many reasons why we all react differently that is not too useful to compare or wonder why.
What IS useful is to understand how people may react to trauma and how trauma affects our brains and, therefore, our bodies. This is the really great stuff to understand, and this is what I like to bring to the awareness of my clients. I am influenced by the work of people like Dan Segal, Bessel van der Kolk, Gabor Mate and Bruce Perry, amongst others.
So trauma-informed care means we work with the people around us in a way that recognises that trauma is widely experienced and interacting with people whilst holding that foremost in mind, may lead us to interact more gently, and provide people with choice, dignity, respect, safety, empowerment and create trust, all of which are good things I think you would agree. So whilst I wish the world was trauma-informed, I have committed to making my practice and my work trauma-informed and working with people who have experienced trauma to be informed and empowered to understand their trauma responses. Also, to work towards safe and gentle understanding and processing of their trauma when they choose to do so in order to move towards better experiences in their life. This is a huge honour for me and one I take seriously with each and every person I work with.