trauma Beyond CBT: Elizabeth Dear, MFT, LCADC


Some people think their experiences don’t count as trauma because there was no blunt force or they compare what they went through with what they have heard from others. My belief, which is supported by others in the field of trauma treatment, is that anything that causes significant doubt about one’s view of self or the world can be traumatic. Sometimes trauma is a discreet, dramatic event or events, such as being raped or physically abused, and at other times it is an environment that challenges or undermines one’s direct experience, such as a child’s experience of repeatedly being told his mother is fine when he sees her in a severely drunken state. A traumatic experience usually creates a survival reflex physiologically to increase the chances of survival and focus on how to fight, freeze, or escape. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develops when a person becomes psychologically and physically stuck in this traumatic response and cannot consistently assess the current situation accurately. Responses that are adaptive at the time of trauma, such as dissociation, repression of feelings, denial of risk, and mistrust, become problematic later in life.

People can fully recover from trauma, regaining an adequate sense of control and establishing enough resources to counterbalance the traumatic memory. I use various methods to help people heal from trauma, including establishing more control over thoughts and somatic responses, challenging unhelpful beliefs about oneself, using current resources to assist the aspect of self in the traumatic situation, and gradually changing the perspective from one of shame to one of pride in surviving. Since most trauma becomes embedded in the body, I suggest increasing somatic awareness as part of this healing process.