The image shows a happy individual who successfully uses trauma counselling strategies.

Trauma counselling strategies to thrive

This article delves into the world of trauma counselling strategies, providing a comprehensive exploration of transformative approaches to healing from trauma. We’ll explore best-practice counselling tactics, empowering individuals on their path to growth and renewal.

Significance of trauma counselling strategies

Trauma counselling strategies play a significant role in the healing process for individuals who have experienced trauma. Even though some people can recover on their own from single traumatic events, many people benefit from professional support for healing trauma. The more complex the traumatic experience is, the more an individual may benefit from trauma counselling.

Healing from trauma requires a mental health professional who specializes in working with trauma. The counsellor needs to be able to build a supportive and healthy therapeutic relationship, appropriately address the power dynamics in the therapeutic settings and have thorough training and understanding of trauma and trauma-focused therapy models. Furthermore, the counsellor must engage in their healing journey from trauma.

Trauma counselling provides a structured approach to healing from trauma. One element is the importance of empowerment and agency in the healing process. Clients take an active role in their recovery, make choices that align with their values, and work towards regaining control in their lives. Furthermore, it provides psychoeducation about the symptoms of trauma so that client understand the interconnection between their present experiences and the past trauma. It also validates the individual’s experience without pathologizing them. Trauma counselling goes beyond talk therapy, teaches new skills and practices, and is often a creative process where the trauma counsellor supports their clients to heal from trauma.

Transformative trauma counselling strategies

Our knowledge around trauma is constantly evolving and needs to be integrated into already existing counselling models. Traditional talk therapy is often not helpful in resolving the impact of trauma since counselling for trauma requires a holistic approach and understanding of how trauma affects our body and autonomic nervous system. Best practices for trauma treatment require a holistic approach that respects the body, mind, and spirit.

Here are the transformative, evidence-based approaches to trauma counselling that I consider valuable for healing from trauma:

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR has proven effective in working with trauma due to numerous research studies. Additionally, EMDR therapy also is an efficient way to address the psychological and physiologic symptoms of adverse life experiences. EMDR therapy is listed as a treatment for PTSD by several organizations such as the World Health Organization, American Psychological Association, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). While I find EMDR effective in my work with my clients, it needs to be integrated into the stages of trauma recovery and is part of stage 2 of trauma recovery. Depending on the symptoms, other practices and methodologies are required to prepare clients for memory integration.

Prolonged exposure therapy

Prolonged exposure therapy assists individuals in gradually confronting their trauma-related memories, feelings, and situations. Through this process, they recognize that these memories and triggers are not inherently harmful and can be faced without avoidance. Major PTSD treatment guidelines, such as the American Psychological Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, recommend prolonged exposure therapy. Prolonged exposure therapy is the modality I have no experience with since I am not trained in it and never used it as a client.

Somatic approaches as trauma counselling strategies

There are different somatic approaches to working with trauma: one of them is Somatic Experiencing, and the other one is sensorimotor psychotherapy. Pat Ogden, PhD, founded sensorimotor psychotherapy. It is a therapeutic modality for trauma and attachment issues. Dr. Peter A. Levine developed Somatic Experiencing. Somatic Experiencing (SE™) seeks to alleviate symptoms of stress, shock, and trauma that manifest within our bodies. When we find ourselves trapped in cycles of fight, flight, or freeze responses, SE assists in facilitating release, restoration, and enhanced resilience.

Parts work as trauma treatment

Parts work therapy is significant for trauma recovery due to the concept of structural dissociations that describes how our brain responds to trauma. Therefore, parts work is used in many different modalities such as inner child work, Trauma-informed stabilization treatment (TIST), Complex Trauma Certification training (by Janina Fisher, Ph.D.), Internal family systems therapy, and some hypnosis approaches.

While each modality in itself can be useful, trauma counsellors who combine different modalities usually can better respond to the individual needs of a client. Each trauma counsellor is likely to create an integrative approach to trauma treatment. In my work with my clients, I use an integrative approach that combines EMDR in a trauma-informed phase model, IFS-informed parts work, and Janina Fisher’s trauma certification and somatic approaches. Despite the modalities, the client’s capacity to be in their window of tolerance and being able to return to it if their nervous system gets dysregulated is crucial for success. Therefore, each modality would need to include tools and practices so that the client can build and expand their capacity.

Significance of parts work as trauma counselling strategy

Definition of parts

Parts are a concept that we don’t use regularly in our language. However, you might have observed moments where conflicting feelings arise within you, such as feeling sad and angry simultaneously or being torn between different desires. We can see parts as different aspects of ourselves, whether they are emotions like the angry part or the shy part, roles or ages like a 3-year-old part or a caregiving part, or descriptors like the wise part, the creative part, or the worried part. The labels we use to refer to our parts are individually different.

Occasionally, intense emotions or states may seem to control us, leading to actions we dislike. Sometimes, it may not even feel like it was us. Parts that carry the burden or wounds of trauma may take on more extreme roles.

Fragmentation into parts as an adaptive survival response

The theory of structural dissociations explains our brain’s adaptive response to trauma: if we go through trauma, the brain splits into rational parts, connected to the left brain, and the emotional part, connected to the right brain.

The rational parts focus on surviving, moving forward, and protecting us from overwhelming emotions. They try to avoid the trauma and tell us that it is not so bad. The emotional parts carry the emotional burden of the trauma, such as the pain, emotions, explicit or implicit memories, or disturbing body sensations. These parts may hidden behind an invisible wall since the feelings were too overwhelming at the moment when the trauma happened. If we experience a similar situation in the present, these parts may get activated since those emotions behind the wall want to be integrated. At those moments, we may feel out of control or we can behave in ways we dislike.

The systems of structural dissociation exist on a spectrum dependent on what has happened to the individual. The more complex the trauma was, the more elaborate the brain needed to respond. The more we can understand and acknowledge these different aspects of ourselves as parts of us, the more it can contribute to a sense of well-being, inner strength, and self-assurance. Therefore, parts work is vital as a trauma counselling strategy

Integrating parts of work into trauma recovery strategies

Parts work is an integral element of all three stages of trauma recovery. I use it with my clients in the stabilization and safety stage as well as in the reprocessing and mourning stage. Moreover, it is useful to continue with parts work in the reconnection stage as a self-care strategy.  Since parts work is useful to stabilize our nervous system, I integrate it at the beginning of trauma treatment.

How to identify parts

Initially, parts work is integrated into trauma counselling by seeing overwhelming emotions or body sensations as parts of us and not all of us. While parts can be a foreign concept at the beginning of trauma counselling, people usually quickly see the benefit of it when they start practicing it. 

Parts that carry trauma

Parts that are commonly associated with trauma are fight parts, flight parts, freeze parts, fawn parts, or attach parts. Traumatized parts may have shaming, punitive voices, or negative beliefs like I hate myself. Parts that hold trauma can have chronic expectations of danger or overwhelming emotions like despair, anger, hopelessness, or shame. There can also be parts that are suicidal, parts that use self-injury, or parts that use substances. Sometimes, parts may have low energy and feel numb. These are just some examples of how we can experience parts. Overall, individuals experience parts differently. The unique experience of the client needs to be respected.

How to work with parts

Healing from trauma includes individuals starting to recognize when different parts are activated, what behaviours they have, and what happened in the environment when they were activated. Additionally, it is also helpful to explore how the parts interconnect with each other. Finding strategies to navigate activated parts is an essential step in trauma counselling. For example, a part with a harsh, punitive voice may often activate a part that feels shame. After parts are recognized, we can name them. However, I may also use different tools like visualizations or externalizing the part in the room (similar to two-chair work in Gestalt therapy) to support clients in identifying their parts. I usually offer different methods, allowing individuals to explore what works best.

Practical tips for trauma survivors

Here are some ideas on how you can start with parts work on your own. Please check in with yourself before doing it whether you are in your window of tolerance. I invite you to be curious about your experience and start to see body sensations, emotions, and younger aspects of you as a part of you.

Important principles for parts work

Two of the principles for parts based on Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) are that all parts are welcome and that there are no bad parts. I find them very helpful for healing from trauma. Generally, we can have different relationships with parts. Some of them we like and others we prefer not to have. Our relationship with our parts may vary depending on the part. In trauma recovery, we separate the part from their behaviours. In parts work, we lean into curiosity towards the part and want to understand the intention behind the behaviour. A part with extreme behaviours usually has protective intentions.

Journalling to connect with parts

One way to connect with your parts is by journalling. Before you start, check in with yourself and connect with your adult self and your body in the present moment. Start by identifying and labelling the different parts you noticed throughout the day.

Furthermore, you can start a dialogue between yourself and the different parts. For example, ask your parts how they are doing. Let each part answer on the sheet of paper. Give them some space to express their feelings, needs, and concerns. You can ask them about their fears and hopes. I often describe this dialogue as a conversation with a good friend. Acknowledge what your parts are saying and be curious about them. This practice can help you to understand each part better, gain insight into your internal dynamics, and cultivate compassion. Often, parts calm down if they feel seen and heard.

Connecting with young parts

If you want to connect with young parts, it is often helpful to start with activities that they enjoy doing. You may ask them what they would like to have to eat or what movie they would want to see.

Alternatively, you can use creative expression with your parts. You can choose any creative outlet that works for you: paintings, drawings, music or movement. Here are some ideas: Ask parts to express how they feel by creating a painting or drawing. Alternatively, you can ask parts to express themselves through dancing or movement.

Self-care while connecting with parts

If you do any of these activities, please take care of yourself. Pay attention if you are in your window of tolerance. Take a break from it if you notice that you go outside of your window of tolerance and use some grounding strategies. If possible, start with parts that are less affected by the burden of past trauma, such as your wise part or a creative part.

While these activities are beneficial to foster self-awareness, self-compassion, and internal balance, they may not be a substitute for professional support. It depends on what has happened to you and what symptoms you notice. Please know that it is ok to ask for support. It is a sign of strength and not weakness. Healing from trauma is a multi-faceted journey. Trauma counselling can help you do this work safely.

Take away

As an integral aspect of trauma counselling strategies, parts of work involve understanding and integrating various aspects of our internal self. Through exploration of internal dialogue and communication with distinct inner selves, this approach becomes a powerful tool in the healing process from trauma.

Take control of your healing journey: Explore trauma recovery today

Take the first step towards healing and reclaiming your life by seeking professional support through trauma counselling. You’re not alone in your journey; we understand the challenges you face and are here to support you every step of the way.

You deserve to live free from the weight of past experiences, and counseling can provide the guidance and tools you need to move forward. Don’t let trauma hold you back any longer – reach out today and explore what transformative services we can offer you. Your path to healing begins now.

References:

Steele, K., van der Hart, O., & Nijenhuis, E. R. S. (2009). The theory of trauma-related structural dissociation of the personality.

Fisher, Janina (2023, April 27). Janina Fisher’s trauma treatment certification training (CCTP): The latest advances and proven techniques to resolve deeply held trauma [Powerpoint online course]. PESI, Eau Claire, WI, United States

Anderson, F. G. (2020) Internal family systems therapy (IFS) [Powerpoint online course]. PESI, Eau Claire, WI, United States

 

Pictures:
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Scroll to Top