When Getting Help Results in Trauma

When you have a problem and reach out for help, the last thing you expect is that getting help could result in trauma, but it happens. Maybe it’s occurs in a doctor’s office, a therapist’s office, a self-help program, a training, or something that you thought of as low risk like a hypnosis session, past life regression, or bodywork session. What do I mean?

traumaExamples of Trauma That Can Occur During “Helping” Events

Giving birth doesn’t generally come with a trauma warning and doesn’t require counseling beforehand. It’s a natural event, after all. But sometimes things don’t go smoothly. Perhaps the baby was injured during birth. Maybe she died. Maybe you felt invalidated, like you were treated like a problem rather than a person. Maybe there was an emergency and things were done to you without you fully understanding what was happening. Or perhaps giving birth triggered a buried sexual assault memory. It’s more common than you might realize.

Past life regression is meant to help people recover from blocks, understand themselves better, and get to the next level, but you never know what is going to pop up. Sometimes it’s a horrific memory that lingers around after the event and creates nightmares and new problems that the helper is unqualified to deal with. Suddenly instead of leaving behind old wounds, you have collected some new ones!

Maybe you are at a retreat and you are given suggestions to activate your heart chakra and open up the flow of feeling. You follow along and comply. Instead of getting a welcoming release followed by honey and light, you find yourself with dark thoughts and sleepless nights that last far longer than the weekend. This could be made worse for you when lots of people around you get the high that you somehow missed.

What To Do Now?

In most cases, the person or thing that created the trauma didn’t do it intentionally. If you hope to have an on-going relationship with the provider, talk about it so that the person knows what happened, what caused it, can avoid doing it again, and the relationship can be repaired. A compassionate care giver will validate your feelings and make repairs, if any are needed. If trust cannot be reestablished, it’s probably best to go elsewhere in the future.

If you suspect that the trauma was created from a procedure or process, find out more about it. Is it a fluke? Was it done correctly? What are the risks involved in doing this thing again? Does the provider offer another type of treatment instead? Sometimes healing involves a bit of uncomfortable activation as the brain and body reset. If this is part of it, can you get some skills training to help you deal with the in-between time? Is there some support involved? Recovery can be hard when your memories are activated, your emotions are swinging back and forth, your anxiety is high, and you can’t sleep. Just knowing there is someone to call or email can go a long way.

Whether an old wound has been activated or a new one is created, look for someone who is skilled in some form of trauma treatment to help you with the trauma. Yoga, breath work, prayer, Reiki, chakra alignment, and acupuncture are all therapeutic. They are not trauma therapy. Unless the person who created the trauma response is a trauma therapist, you really need to go elsewhere to fix it. Trauma is a brain/body issue that requires techniques that are designed to safely release it. There are many ways to activate trauma. This is not the same as releasing it. In fact, re-activating it without releasing it simply re-traumatizes you and further cements the trauma.

What To Look For in a Trauma Therapist

Rapport. Do you feel safe with this person? Does she answer your questions? Does she pay attention to what you are saying? Do you feel seen? Do you feel validated? Do you feel like this person is strong enough to support you and help put you back together if you get opened up? Do you feel you have a say in your treatment? Do you feel you can bring problems or issues to her attention? Those are elements of rapport. These are essential in a trauma support person. Trust your instincts.

Training. Trauma is a specialty. It takes more than someone who can make you feel at ease and is easy to talk to to deal with this. I’d recommend seeing someone with a few tools in the toolbox, rather than just one, because everyone is different. One person might love EMDR while the next person hates it. One person might respond very well to Somatic Experiencing while another feels that it’s too boring or too scary. Training is also vital for a proper diagnosis. If you are being treated for depression or borderline personality disorder, it’s not likely to improve your trauma symptoms. If your helper doesn’t know what trauma looks like, she may not know when you are having a trauma response. She may just think you are acting out.

Information. It’s crucial for survivors of trauma to have information. Information creates trust and hope. A good therapist will share information about your diagnosis, treatment options, how trauma develops and how it is treated, how the treatment process is likely to look, and any other information that you will need to understand the problem, the treatment, and be comfortable with everything.

Warmth. There are lots of different personalities. There are lots of different types of people who can be effective helpers. One common trait is warmth. A warm person shows caring, feels connected, is kind, and gives off a vibe of genuineness. She’s someone who feels like a real human being and not a cold expert or robot who just does techniques. This is really important because it contributes to a feeling of safety. If the person feels clinical, condescending, or defensive or uncaring, look elsewhere. It’s not about whether or not your perception is right or fair. It’s about feeling cared for.

Healthy Boundaries. Some trauma survivors didn’t develop healthy boundaries because the trauma happened when they were young. Some have had their boundaries violated, so they feel they have no right to set boundaries with others. This is why it’s very important for the trauma therapist to practice and teach healthy boundaries.

Other Suggestions

Here are some tips to keep you moving forward after this unpleasant event.

  • Sometimes engaging in self-help work shifts things around and something painful pops up. If it’s a hidden or old trauma, it’s your body’s way of saying that it now has the energy to deal with it. It’s like your body is coming out of freeze and now you can feel again. While it may not feel so great, it’s actually a good thing. It’s a start on the road to recovery. Take advantage of it and keep moving forward.
  • Before getting involved in any type of therapy, research it. Most are very beneficial and low risk. Still, if you have a trauma history, you will want to know how the practitioner can help you if you have a trauma response. You also want to know what’s the worst that can happen. You don’t want to find yourself away from home crying uncontrollably in a heap unless you know in advance that that is a possibility and can plan for it.
  • Accept that it happened. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t blame anyone including yourself. When you are ready, take steps to treat the trauma so that you can put it behind you.
  • If your therapeutic activity provokes emotional activation and you have no way to deal with it, in other words it opens you up and then leaves you wounded and unsupported, stop doing it! This is not helpful. Sometimes people think that feeling is all that is required to heal. A good cry doesn’t help with trauma. Trauma is not the same as a boo boo. You can’t kiss it and make it better or cry it out.
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because one healing modality or session didn’t work out doesn’t mean they are all the same. Self-help is still a good idea.
  • If the person or process that is supposed to help you isn’t helping, look for someone or something else. Trust your gut. You don’t have to “be fair.” You don’t owe anyone an explanation. You don’t have to stay out of loyalty. You just have to take care of yourself.

Sometimes getting help results in trauma. It’s actually not uncommon. When it does, do what you can to heal. There are great resources and great people who can help.

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