So what does trauma-informed mean? Instead of the traditional approach that asks “What’s wrong with you?” Trauma-informed asks the question “What happened to you?” Trauma-informed is based on the principle that the current struggles individuals and families face are the mental, emotional, biological, neurobiological, and structural outcomes of earlier traumatic experiences. These outcomes make rational thoughts and behaviors almost impossible until the trauma has been resolved.
The next question is “What’s right with you?” When you consider the overwhelming impact of trauma on literally every aspect of life, the strength and resilience demonstrated by survivors is nothing short of amazing. Many have discovered and used strategies, skills, and other methods to stay alive while being engaged with life in ways they often don’t even recognize. I fully believe survivors are brilliant and resourceful beyond what most can imagine.
Unfortunately, many of the skills and strategies they have used to survive are precisely what create the issues leading most individuals and their families into therapy. Their survival skills are no longer necessary and are actually detrimental. The problem is many survivors haven’t figured that out yet. Until they do, they will continue to use these tools until they feel safe enough to put them down and try other strategies.
Research demonstrates over and over again that much of the negative and impulsive behaviors survivors often engage in stems from biological reactions to environmental triggers and perceived threats. The biological, neurological, and neurochemical reactions must be calmed and redirected as a priority. Until this calm is achieved through a sense of felt safety allowing for trauma resolution work, survivors will continue to be triggered by their past traumatic experiences and react as if those experiences are still happening in the present moment.
Trauma-informed therapy is not initially a cognitive or behavioral approach (although behaviors tend to improve as safety, skills, and stability become more available). In general, survivors simply cannot avoid reactive behaviors until they have other ways to respond to situations.
Many individuals and families come to therapy with an expectation that the primary focus of therapy is addressing negative behaviors. This usually leads to a laundry list of the week's bad behaviors that need to be addressed in sessions. While I understand the sense of urgency, it simply doesn’t work to focus on these behaviors until other skills have been learned and practiced. If a behavioral approach is indeed something you are looking for, there are likely other therapists better suited for your situation.
One of the main reasons for temporarily overlooking behavior bursts is that focusing on them puts everyone in a defensive position and is counter-productive to establishing trust and safety in therapy. Focusing on outbursts and meltdowns (that often aren't fully recalled anyway) results in guilt and shame that feels all too familiar within a traumatic background. This leads to survivors not wanting to be in therapy and refusing to work on needed strategies at home.
Many of my clients have been in multiple episodes of therapy prior to coming to see me. In other cases, some clients have an idea about therapy based on the experiences of others or what they have seen or read about in the media. Trauma-informed therapy is a much more direct approach than talk therapy and this can be confusing at first.
As you walk through the Steps in Therapy, please notice there is a prescribed sequence of sessions and intervention focused specifically on identifying the traumatic experiences you have been exposed to and then developing the necessary skills for increasing self-awareness and regulation in order to process through these experiences. Unlike traditional talk therapy, there is initially less of a focus on current events other than to notice how these events may have triggered, and been reactions to, prior trauma.
Trauma-Informed is a time-limited approach that initially is a 12-week commitment to gaining skills and processing trauma. At the end of our initial 12 weeks, we will work together to determine if further trauma processing work is needed. Once our trauma work is completed,regular individual sessions will come to an end in order to open space for other trauma clients. If you believe therapy is still indicated at that time, you are welcome to continue in group therapy for as long as you believe is helpful while seeking a suitable individual therapist to meet any ongoing needs you may have.
If you would like additional info, here's a link to my professional background and qualifications . If you’re still with me, it’s time to take a look at what a “Steps in Therapy” looks like from a trauma-informed perspective.
If not, I wish you the best in finding someone to assist you.
Thanks a bunch!
Trauma Informed Therapy for Individuals and Families Impacted by Complex Developmental Trauma and PTSD
Kenny Dennis, MA, LPC
1864 Woodmoor Drive, Suite 214 Monument, CO 80132 719.321.1976
Hey there! Thanks for stopping by to see if, and how, I might be a good fit for your family and the struggles you may be experiencing.
My name is Kenny Dennis and I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in working with survivors who have been exposed to intense and long-term trauma that continues to disrupt their present quality of life. A trauma-informed approach to therapy may be different than what you expect and I encourage you to review my site to gain as much information as possible before calling for an initial assessment.