Trauma is Not a Life Sentence

Understanding the Role of Therapy in Healing Trauma

When I attended Compassionate Inquiry Training with Dr. Gabor Mate in 2018, one of the pieces that really stuck with me was when he said, Trauma is not about what happens to you. It’s about what happens inside of you, as a result of what happened to you.” I understood this to mean the ways in which your nervous system, thinking and feeling systems were altered by the trauma. Perhaps your mind never stops, you are much more vigilant and on the lookout for danger, that you don’t ever really settle and relax. Clients and I have referred to this as an incessant buzz and lack of peace and safety. And if you understand what I am talking about, you also know how exhausting it is.

Often people with a history of untreated trauma have a much lower capacity and window of tolerance for upsetting things in their lives, and easily move into fight, flight, freeze and appease when triggered by events that don’t upset non-traumatized people in the same way. Non-traumatized people (who have a secure attachment) are able to self-regulate much more readily, calm themselves down and take care of themselves when upset.

When Healing Trauma, Psychotherapy Supports You to Reconnect with Yourself.

According to Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, the purpose of psychotherapy is to help people find ways to get along with their own internal systems, for people to be ok in being with themselves. For those of us that have been impacted by trauma, one of the most difficult things we can encounter is the inability to find safety within ourselves. Trauma dysregulates the nervous system, and therefore we can be easily triggered and have difficulty in finding ways to regulate on our own.

The important thing to note, again, is that trauma is not a life sentence. Working with a therapist can support you to re-connect to yourself and find safety within. Therapists are trained to co-regulate with you, to offer tools and support that make it less scary to be with yourself and connect to another human. The therapeutic relationship is often one of the first healthy and safe relationships a client experiences, and can enable us to open up our window of tolerance in our everyday lives.

“You need to just really pay attention to what goes on inside of yourself and notice what comes up. And it can be very scary. And that’s why we have therapists who can help us, to guide us, to keep paying attention to our internal world, to our internal flow. I think it gives us the courage to notice what we notice inside,” says Dr. van der Kolk. And this process is one that can take time. Trauma therapy is not something that is meant to be rushed. We go at the pace that your nervous system can handle.

So, if you identify with having trouble connecting to yourself or others, are reactive or easily shut down, know what we are here to help. I believe that all of us deserve to experience life with less fear and aloneness. As we heal, we find more peace, connection and fulfillment.