Why is trauma therapy so hard?
Why is trauma therapy so hard?
Trauma is encoded in the body by your sensory data system. You take information about your environment in through your senses (taste, touch, smell, hear and see). That information is recorded by chemical messengers that tell your body if you're experiencing any sort of danger of distress.
Most people carry varying degrees of stress and trauma without realising it. It's only when their body starts to show symptoms like depression, sadness or anxiety, that they sense something is wrong.
Talking about how you feel often doesn't work because you're dealing with two different systems; language and the sensory system.
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Accessing the sensory information.
If trauma is encoded as sensory information, it must be accessed and processed using the same encoding system which is the body. Anything that's encoded into the body which is not a language, will be stored in the form of sensations. Often these sensations are uncomfortable for us. We experience them as fear, sadness, anger and host of other unpleasant feelings.
If there are too many sensations to be processed at the time of ongoing traumatic experiences, or the person is too young to make sense of them, the body will store the sensations and attempt to process them at a later date. The later date is usually when the person is older and no longer under stress or threat. The body see that as an ideal time to process unresolved, which mean integrated sensory data. So seemingly out of nowhere, up come all the nightmares, the flashbacks and feelings of anxiety or depression, But they're not out of nowhere. There will be a history to the body sensations and nightmares and flashbacks, even if you don't remember them.
You have three options when this happens:
live with the symptoms of trauma and stress
suppress them with medications, drugs, alcohol and other addictions
attend an emotion focused body based trauma therapy and help your body integrate them.
To help your body process and integrate those stored feelings, you must go back into the body's sensory encoding system. This is not done by talking. Talking is a path that can lead you to where sensory information is stored but talking won't effectively diminish the bodily sensations to the extent that using the body does. That's why our therapy is called somatic trauma therapy or emotion-focused or body-focused trauma therapy. That simply means that you will be encouraged to use your body to express your physical sensations.
Trauma therapy is so hard is because it's painful.
No one what to do a trauma focus therapy because it painful. Literally, it is physically painful. When you start to access the body sensations that are attached to painful memories it can feel horrible. Why does anyone what to go into that pain? Because it works. Its seems crazy, but it true.
Physically using your body allows you to access the sensory system and trace the sensation back to their source.If trauma therapy is done correctly and consistently and with enough intensity, the symptoms of the unpleasant or uncomfortable body sensations will diminish or disappear over time. So yes, trauma therapy does work to lessen or eliminate the effects of trauma over time when done correctly.
The other reason trauma therapy is so hard is because we've all been trained over our lifetime to avoid and suppress our feelings. We learn to do this using a whole host of defences. We are so good at it that we don't even know that we're doing it. It's not unusual for people in therapy to change the subject when painful feeling start to rise. They literally move away from them in their mind and through their language. We cannot push past people defence systems as they're there for a reason, but it's a big part of the reason that body focused trauma therapy is difficult, long and slow.
Body-focused trauma therapy is not a quick fix.
Even though body-focused or somatic trauma therapy is a thorough and precise form of treatment, it’s slow. This another reason why it's so hard. How long it takes varies from person to person and will depend on the type of pain and trauma, you experienced. It will also depend on your ability to engage in the feeling process. The ability to allow yourself to feel is the basis of emotion-focused or somatic trauma therapy
Other reasons that make trauma therapy a slow process is that it takes time to learn how to go into your feelings. It also takes time to feel safe with a therapist and with the process itself.
Another aspect that affects how long childhood trauma therapy for adults takes is that certain feelings are harder to get into and feel than others. Such feelings can take longer to access and to work through. But once you've worked through them, the force of the pain diminishes substantially and in some cases disappear. Often without your conscious awareness.
Trauma therapy doesn't work for all?
Another reason trauma therapy is hard is due to the fact that some people can not fully engage in the body-focused trauma therapy process. That limits the lasting benefits they can achieve.
As mentioned earlier, the same biological and psychological defence systems that help us to survive in stressful situations can make it harder to participate in body focused trauma therapy. A good therapist can help most people safely work with their defence system, but it takes time and commitment to the process.
Below are a few other reasons that someone might not gain the full benefits from the trauma therapy process or why they might find it challenging to do.
- being anxious can make body-focused trauma therapy difficult...
If you're highly anxious, you can find trauma therapy challenging. Technically speaking, when you're anxious you're already in a lot feeling. And when you feel anxious, the thought of feeling any more uncomfortable feelings (especially from a painful past) is often too much. The idea of more pain in an already overloaded system only increases anxiety levels.
If however, you can allow yourself to feel the painful feelings that drive the anxiety, there is potential for you to resolve or diminish your anxiety over time.
It can be helpful to consider taking certain supplements or medications for a short while as an adjunct to therapy. By reducing anxiety in this way, it creates the opportunity for you to go back and process unfelt feelings from the past. Emotions other than your current distress.
It's the processing of feelings that were stuck in the past that conducts healing.
Once again not everyone wants to take supplements or medication (this tends to be so especially if you already have anxiety). Equally, supplements and/or medication don't always work. Finding the right supplement or medication is crucial for aiding this process.
Alternatively, highly anxious people can do better in trauma therapy by going slower. For example, by having regular sessions that are further apart or by alternating a feeling session with a talking session until the underlying causes of the anxiety are felt and integrated.
- a life crisis makes trauma therapy hard to engage...
Other things that can make it challenging to engage the trauma therapy process fully is being in a life crisis, especially if you are struggling to survive with little money or resources.
When you’re in a life crisis, it becomes almost impossible to let go of control in your therapy. Life already feels out of control. But not letting go of control in the feeling process makes it difficult to explore some of the deeper early pain. Feeling the repressed old pain is essential as this is what heals the emotional wounds of childhood.
Please be aware though that the 'letting go of control' that we're talking about is a conscious letting go. You choose to let go of control to access deeper feelings. You know you can pull out of the feeling at any time, but you decide not too.
- dependency on others makes primal difficult;
Living with or being dependent on your parents or anyone else can sometimes make it tough to engage in the trauma therapy process fully. Some people who live with one or both parents or are financially dependent on parents or others will stop when they reach a certain point in therapy.
Therapy tends to end when the anger or rage at parents or others starts to rise. Anger can threaten dependency by making it impossible to tolerate unhealthy or toxic relationships. If you're not ready to deal with this or leave, therapy ends up stopping.
People can remain stuck at this point, believing that trauma therapy did not work for them. They might seek out other treatments to help them feel better about their situation. Other individuals can work through this to move out and live independently.
It's also important to note here that many people who have left home and are living by independent means can and do remain emotionally dependent on one or both parents.
It can be just as hard for them to feel the angry feelings towards their parents in therapy. Instead, they anger at mum, and dad is usually projected onto others or turned in on themselves.
Tried other therapies without success?
If you’ve tried a lot of different therapies and have found no real relief, then trauma therapy might be the next step for you. Most therapies are talking therapies which are not helpful when it comes to healing the emotional pain and trauma of childhood.
Understanding what happened or why it happened does not take the painful feelings away. These feelings must be felt and integrated to be lessened or eliminated.
For some people, though, going through a few different therapies and therapists is not a bad thing. They need to go through this to prepare them for trauma therapy. In this way, they have laid some foundations and now need to process the pain.
Nevertheless, you can spend years and years in therapy with little or no improvements. By the time you discover emotion-focused trauma therapy. You don't want to spend any more time or money on another process. Especially if you're unsure, it will work for you.
If you have experienced this, it makes sense that you just want to live your life. But it will be a life where the underlying pain is diverted rather than diminished, and that might be okay for you. Some people accept this.
You have a right to live life the way you want. Everyone does. A part of living life the way you want is choosing the path that is right for you. Body focused trauma therapy might be the path for you or it might not.
Have more questions.
If you've read through the above and you’re curious about trauma therapy as a therapeutic process, then you might like to read the FAQs. If you want to take the next step and inquire about making an initial appointment to discuss your personal situation, please email or call us.