Originally published by NASW Currents, Alyssa shares about the nature of trauma and first steps to approach its processing and healing.
“After all, when a stone is dropped into a pond, the water continues quivering ever after the stone has sunk to the bottom”
— Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
Trauma. The fog that occupies your mind. The tremor of your hands, knees, voice, coming and going in waves. The weight in your chest, stomach, back. The anger. The guilt.
Trauma is personal. There is no all-encompassing definition of trauma or single answer to what heals it. I understand trauma to be any occurrence experienced as a threat to one’s life. While the event itself may have passed, trauma, and all its manifestations and symptoms, remains.
One human instinct is to bury trauma. We think, if we push it away, it can’t possibly be as painful. In my experience, personally and professionally, I have found the harder you push trauma away, the stronger trauma pushes back.
We carry trauma in our bodies and in our minds. Not every approach to processing trauma will work for every individual. Some individuals may benefit from more than one approach, or an integration of various approaches.
Of highest importance is to provide the space and opportunity for trauma to be seen, acknowledged, embraced, and let go.
One opportunity is talk therapy. Week after week, therapist and client build the space and relationship through which the client can increasingly feel safe. This safety affords the individual an opportunity to share their most difficult memories, healing through connection, shared burden, acceptance, and, ultimately, learning that she or he experienced a trauma but is something, and someone, separate from the trauma. The individual has the strength within her or himself to withstand the waves of processing. There is light on the other side.
The My Wellbeing community of therapists – trained in diverse techniques like psychoanalysis, creative art and drama therapy, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, somatic experience, mindfulness, yoga, CBT, DBT, and more – consistently remind me how diverse approaches to healing can be. One approach may work best for one person while another may work best for someone else.
Complementing talk therapy with physical and spiritual health can also be extremely beneficial for trauma survivors. Practices like acupuncture, for example, create space in the body to gradually release stress and tension that may have built up for years.
My recommendation? Practice patience with yourself and your clients. Invest in a relationship that objectively exists to help you better understand yourself and your story. Anticipate the journey toward healing is often a challenging one. You may need to try more than one thing to discover what works best for you. Ask for help when you need it and accept the support you need to endure. Celebrate the small victories, and, over time, acknowledge and celebrate deep-rooted change.
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Alyssa Petersel, Co-Founder and CEO of My Wellbeing and author of Somehow I Am Different, graduated from Northwestern University in 2013 with dual BA degrees in psychology and international studies, graduated summa cum laude from New York University in May 2017 with her Master's in Social Work, and graduated from The Writer's Institute non-fiction program at CUNY Graduate Center in May 2017. A native New Yorker, Alyssa now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys running, coffee, community, and social justice.