Understanding Psychological Trauma
At Twin Rivers Rehab the clinical team fully appreciates that working with trauma requires a strong skill set, underpinned by a level of completeness in our own healing. Clients require time and space to explore the past in a non-judgmental environment affording free flowing exploration that is respectful and supportive.
‘Psychological trauma is damage to the mind that occurs as a result of a distressing event. Trauma is often the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one’s ability to cope, or integrate the emotions involved with that experience’.
‘All’ the clients I have met or had the privilege of working with directly have experienced psychological trauma that has had a lasting impact on their relationship with themselves and other people. Unresolved trauma can be within anyone we may know including ourselves. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is heavily documented these days confirming how unresolved trauma can have an impact on a person’s ability to function effectively. Intrusive dreams and thoughts can play a role as well as mood swings, overreactions to inconsequential events and possible under reactions to intense or uncomfortable events.
Typically, especially in a rehab setting clients have been traumatized due to sexual or emotional abuse as a child which has contributed to their addiction disorder. Not all trauma leads to addiction as the person may develop a mental health disorder due to an inability to cope with the trauma such as depression or anxiety. What is common is a Dual Diagnosis whereby the client has an addiction and mental health disorder underpinned by traumatic experiences.
It must be recognised that despite similarity to traumatic events, each person responds differently over different periods of time. The loss of a pet as a child can be very traumatic yet can be overcome by the introduction of a new puppy. In some cases, the new puppy makes no difference as the loss of the ‘bond’ remains too painful to understand or accept. In line with the grieving process there is no generic path or outcome that is attached to trauma as it is so intrinsically individualised which is extremely important to recognise when working with clients suffering with unresolved trauma.
In the world of addiction, I have noticed that some clients have a vested interest in ‘holding on’ to the trauma, why? For some clients the trauma has defined them and created an identity which is normally negative in nature but an identity none the less! By working through and ‘letting go’ of some of the power surrounding traumatic events may mean that the client has to take responsibility which, for some clients is to be avoided at all cost! On the simplistic side, holding on affords the client the perfect excuse to relapse!
Trauma sufferers prefer predictability because its safer and there are no surprises! The predictability offers a certain amount of control that is reassuring for the trauma sufferer. For some clients, avoidance or an inability to engage in therapeutic support could prove highly problematic. The unresolved trauma can seriously impact the way a person thinks, feels and behaves and could lead to the development of a personality disorder.
David is the Clinical and Development Director of Twin Rivers Rehab in South Africa and a UK Accredited Addictions Therapist with the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals UK. Articles/Blogs are written with the assistance of researchers and other specialists in the field of addiction and the recovery process