Thinking, Teaching, Talking Trauma
A big part of my work is involved in helping people understand and develop by delivering sessions to increase knowledge and insight into what is going on for them, for others, for clients and service users. I believe this vital work and much needed within local communities, after all, education is knowledge, knowledge is power and re-empowering people is my business.
With that in mind educating others is very important to me, and over the years I have had positive feedback from many training groups who have found my sessions valuable for understanding their service users perspective and for learning potential new methods of engagement as a result.
Less traditionally, I have found that a balanced mix of psychological education (psycho-ed) can be very effective when working with clients on a 1-1 basis as part of their overall journey of recovery. Of course, this has to fit with their needs and has to facilitate client participation and perspective. With the client firmly rooted at the core of all, we do, delivering sessions that explore educationally has proved beneficial for many.
Let's talk about trauma!
Trauma is a common subject that I help people to understand.
Groups of professionals and clients alike have benefitted from increased understanding and insight into trauma, what triggers it, and how it presents. My delivery style is very user friendly and down to earth.
All of my training packages come from the perspective of the person experiencing the trauma. If I’m training police about the impact of trauma, I do so with the victim's presentation at the heart of the training. Using this approach officers gain a better understanding as to why they are presented with certain patterns or behaviours.
Similarly, with clients, when we explore what trauma is, we do so from their own first-person perspective. It is true there are commonalities, certain symptoms and typical triggers, but there is also individuality. Every person experiencing trauma symptoms does so with their own unique version and their own take on the symptoms.
So what educational information is important when it comes to talking trauma?
Firstly – and most importantly……….
You are not cracking up!
‘It happened months ago, you should be over it by now’
The antidepressants are not working
Its in your head when you least expect it
You want to talk about it, you don’t want to talk about it
You wish your brain would just switch off
You want to be the person you were before this happened
All of the above, constantly, day in, day out, can and often leaves people thinking they have somehow ‘lost the plot’.
So, they try to file it all away, get on with life and distract themselves from thinking about it.
Introducing the suitcase story:
Let’s imagine the trauma is a car accident (apologies to those who are triggered by this).
So the accident happened, you're lucky, you survived.
All of the feelings, thoughts, memories, pictures, sounds, smells and any other stimulus associated with the crash are placed in your suitcase. You don’t want to think about this horrible event. You want to get on with your life, so you close that suitcase, click the clips shut and put the suitcase on the shelf behind you.
There we go, traumatic incident, safely dealt with, sealed up and in the suitcase on the shelf.
You get on with your life, move forward from the crash, you know the suitcase is there but so far so good!
Trouble is that for some people (and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here) the suitcase doesn’t fade away into some dark distant memory.
In fact, for some, it’s quite the opposite. The suitcase is off the shelf and is in plain view in front of you. Worse still, sometimes it's open and you can see the contents. Sometimes you might even be expected to examine the contents in detail.
“So what’s so bad about that?” I hear you ask. Well, if post-trauma symptoms are developing then the last thing you will want is any reminder that the suitcase exists, let alone the prospect of looking inside. Why? Because any reminder is not so much bringing back a bad memory, more actually taking you back to reliving the event, feelings, fears, everything.
As the re-experiencing of the event occurs you feel overwhelmed and just want that suitcase back on the shelf, closed and out of sight.
To achieve this people who experience trauma develop patterns and behaviours to avoid reliving the event.
Let me explain with a hypothetical scenario. The car crash happened on a Sunday. Shirley was driving down Peel Street in her blue Passat and out from nowhere ran a dog. She swerved to miss the dog and lost control of the car. The car hit a wall and was a write-off. Luckily Shirley was fine…..so was the dog.
Initially, Shirley thought she was fine, yes ok – it all felt a bit dreamy, a bit odd but that’s to be expected, isn’t it? She remembers the car hitting the wall, it seemed to be in slow motion but hey that's ok too.
Shirley was straight back to work and everything was fine, well she didn’t like Sundays much to start with -but that’s no big deal. Her car was replaced by insurance and she now had a red Audi A3- cool.
A few months later it was apparent that Shirley didn’t like driving down Peel Street, she would avoid it if possible, others started to notice too. ‘Why are you going the long way round?’
One friend also has a blue Passat and he noticed that Shirley seemed to avoid travelling with him. He thinks he has said something to offend her!
Shirley was out with her mum the other day, walking to the shops she noticed a stray dog near the road – She went off it about irresponsible owners, got quite agitated and snapped at her mum when she questioned what the hell was wrong with her.
So what was happening? Unbeknown to everyone else who thought the accident was well behind Shirley who was lucky to be ok – she wasn’t, ok that is.
When she tried to drive down Peel Street – she would have panic attacks, including the sweaty palms and racing heart she had when the accident happened. It makes her feel sick. She can hear the screech of the wheels and feel the impact of the wall. She has to give her head a shake – but ultimately the whole experience puts images and fears into her that she’d much rather forget. Her suitcase is open.
When she gets in the Passat the whole event comes flooding back. The dashboard and the interior are all the same, she’s catapulted back there, back in the car in slow motion about to hit the wall. She’s looking inside that suitcase.
Same with stray dogs – she immediately sees them and hears a screech of wheels as the car swerves to avoid hitting the dog.
Shirley is knackered. Every night when she goes to bed she sees pictures and thoughts about the crash. ‘What the hell is the matter with me?’ She thinks. She drinks more, it helps her sleep sometimes but she’s irritable…. sorry, Mum!
More to be explored in a future blog. To be continued….