“The question isn’t whether or not we’ve experienced trauma. The question is, ‘What is my trauma, and how does it affect my life now?'” This is one of those life-defining quotes you stumble upon every once in a great while, and it comes from Ryan Soave – trauma therapist, breathworker, and Director of Program Development at All Points North Lodge.
When we take on dysfunctional habits in ourselves or our clients, it’s easy to fight for symptom reduction and behavior modification. After all, those outcomes will keep them sober, clean, regulated, and out of legal trouble. The issue, though, is that behavior modification only takes you so far. Sure, it produces tangible temporary change. But if we only modify the behavior, that habit change is only as strong as our client’s ability to withstand triggers. When circumstances change and life pokes at the underlying issues, the dysfunction returns – relapse.
Enter: trauma therapy. Though its definition will vary a bit from practice to practice, trauma therapy hinges on three concepts:
We all face some sort of trauma.
Unresolved trauma creates dysfunction.
Our dysfunction can heal when we address our traumas.
The term trauma often provokes a mental image of war, sexual assault, or some extreme violence. These events would qualify as what we’ll call “Big T” traumas. But trauma isn’t exclusive to this type. Other negative experiences or even “perceptions” or “threats” of negative experiences throughout childhood and even adulthood can change the way we understand and interact with the world. We call these “little t” traumas. Maybe we grew up with an absent parent, couldn’t live up to our older sibling’s example, served as a vessel for a parent to live vicariously through, watched a loved one battle cancer, or experienced repeated harsh criticism in an intimate relationship. While these experiences might not bring on a condition as severe PTSD, they can certainly leave a lasting mark – sometimes one that’s even harder to identify.
Trauma therapy targets these underlying issues in our lives to bring a fuller, more sustainable type of healing and change. It heals deep-set hurt, helps us rewire our brain, and leads us to identify when a stressor provokes a trauma response, so we can choose a better way.
Yes, fight for behavior modification. But dig deeper. Consider EMDR, deep meditation, DBT, psychodrama, and other methods. Take dysfunction out at the source.
Anna Mason, Senior Writer
All Points North Lodge