By Dario Martinez
I’m often amazed by the resilience of the human spirit as I witness people giving voice to their most vulnerable, traumatic experiences. Sometimes the pain is so palpable that the instinct to bury memories and never look at them again is very powerful.
But trauma almost demands a voice.
If the story of what happened isn’t allowed to come out as some form of a FELT narrative, it often emerges in the form of a "symptom" — such as anxiety; or in a problematic behavior — like addiction. It's important to note however, that the "narrative" doesn't have to be a "linear memory." Sometimes trauma emerges as a set of images or strongly felt emotions that don't appear to make sense. And this is completely normal.
When I sit with my clients, I frequently see their traumas being carefully concealed under the “symptoms” and challenging behaviors that bring them into therapy. It’s important to emphasize, however, that in addition to demanding a voice, trauma also requires a great deal of safety, intention and time.
Many clients feel compelled to “process” painful memories right away, but moving too quickly can actually be damaging. The human brain isn't always able to differentiate between a STORY about a traumatic experience and an ACTUAL traumatic experience — which is why people in therapy sometimes get "flooded" with intense emotions when they start to share their stories.
If painful memories aren't properly “contained,” clients can easily become re-traumatized. To make therapy as safe and effective as possible, I collaborate with my clients through a clearly defined process that consists of three distinct phases:
Phase 1, Stabilization and Resourcing: I work with clients to establish safety in the therapeutic process by providing education and distress tolerance exercises to help them express and ultimately manage painful emotions and feelings that commonly emerge while processing traumatic memories.
Phase 2, Processing and Integration of Traumatic Memories: In addition to creating painful memories, trauma also creates limiting beliefs. People who are victims of violent crimes and abuse often blame themselves for what happened to them. They begin to internalize limiting beliefs such as “I’m weak” or “I can’t trust anyone to take care of me.” In phase 2, we use skills developed in phase 1 to process and integrate painful experiences while simultaneously addressing limiting belief patterns that were formed as a result of trauma.
Phase 3, Re-establishing connections: Trauma robs us of connections to family, to community and most importantly, to ourselves. Once safety has been established, client and therapist can begin the process of restoring lost connections.
To accomplish the tasks in each phase, I provide resources in four important areas:
Through education, I provide my clients with a sense of relief by explaining, validating and normalizing their experience. The aftermath of trauma often feels confusing, overwhelming and scary. Learning about trauma’s impact on the nervous system provides context and understanding for trauma related disturbances.
Mindfulness practices and Emotion management techniques transform painful, automatic “trauma responses” by making them less automatic. Trauma often leaves us feeling like we have no control over what happens to us. Learning to control our behavior and emotions through the use of Mindfulness practices is a powerful first step in the process of reclaiming a sense of control over our lives.
Please see links on this page for additional resources. It is my intention to inspire hope and resilience by providing access to information.
Copyright © 2020, Dario Martinez. All rights reserved.