What does “trauma informed” mean?
At the Brisbane Harmony Centre, all of our psychologists offer trauma informed therapy. This does not mean that all we treat is trauma, but it does mean that we consider your learning history, and the possibility that you may have internalised unhelpful messages about yourself, others or the world around you as a result of some of your more difficult experiences.
As mammals who exist in complex social hierarchies in a large and increasingly complicated world, we all have experiences that overwhelm us. There are many ways that we can become overwhelmed. Some of us have bodies that register things really strongly, making many experiences overwhelming. Some of us are unfortunate enough to have experiences that are so overwhelming that most people would struggle to come to terms with them. Others have an accumulation of stressful events that is so consistent and relentless that even though none of the individual experiences stands out as a major problem, we eventually get overwhelmed by the accumulation of things. Some of us do not fit in well into the families or communities that we are born into, and we are unable to access the support that we need when we do get overwhelmed by something. Some of us make it through serious challenges but are too busy afterwards to come to terms with them, because other demands take precedence. Other times, we don’t recognise the impact of an experience until much later.
Being trauma informed means being aware of these very human experiences of feeling overwhelmed, or unable to come to terms with our experiences, and it involves knowledgeably and sensitively exploring the impact of these experiences with a person. It also involves the crucial belief that people are so much more than their overwhelming experiences, and that all individuals have the capacity to recover.
Therapists who are trauma informed keep the following things in mind:
- Sensitive exploration of the overwhelming experiences.
For many people, talking about their overwhelming experiences leads to them feeling overwhelmed. Trauma informed therapists are sensitive to this, and take care to have the client discuss only what they can handle at a given time, and stick to a broad mention of experiences without any details, until the client is ready to provide more information.
- Creating a safe therapeutic relationship.
Because trauma and recovery from it may both have a social dimension, trauma informed therapists work to establish a safe therapeutic relationship for their clients. This involves communicating clearly and consistently, establishing clear treatment contracts and therapeutic arrangements, maintaining clients’ confidentiality, seeing clients in a positive light, providing feedback in a supportive manner, and being open to feedback from clients.
- Upskilling an overwhelmed person in their strategies to calm themselves before addressing the overwhelming experiences.
The journey of recovery from overwhelming experiences involves learning to settle your body and your mind so that you can be calm and present despite your past. A trauma informed therapist will be helping you learn skills for this from the beginning of therapy.
- Developing safe, realistic, thorough treatment plans.
Sometimes, a person who comes to therapy is feeling so overwhelmed that weekly therapy is unlikely to be enough to manage what is going on. A trauma informed therapist must consider this, and may make recommendations about what other services and supports need to be in place for the therapy to be possible. This may include medical involvement, community support, hospitalization or other support, and will be discussed with you in detail during your treatment if it is necessary. It is not ethical for therapists to offer treatment plans with poor chance of success.
- Empowering people who have been overwhelmed, both in their therapy, and in their lives.
A common experience that accompanies being overwhelmed is feeling disempowered. For this reason, trauma informed therapists pay special attention to empowering their clients, by offering realistic and well-informed choices to clients about their treatment and life decisions. Trauma informed therapists also solicit regular feedback from clients about their experiences in and outside of therapy. You are the expert on your own life, your therapist is there to assist you to live it the way that you want to.