There is often the idea that when treating clients we should help them process their negative emotions. Believing that only by ridding them of these, will space be created for new, more positive feelings to gather. This is especially true in the case of trauma survivors, who often come in for treatment desperate for their unbearable pain to be relieved. They want an instant cure, and we want to be able to provide it. We can then form the mistaken assumption that in order for our clients to make any valuable progress in therapy, they need to leave the session having been made to feel hope that life is worth living, in spite of their trauma.
But the truth is, for some survivors of horrific trauma, life just isn’t that worth living. They can’t see much hope of a brighter future. Certainly not in the immediate aftermath. And how exactly are we meant to suggest to someone who has been raped by a trusted adult for years of their life, or someone who was repeatedly beaten by an alcoholic parent, that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel”? That they will feel “better” with time? For people who have suffered such indelible, profound trauma, we should not have hope that they can be purged of their negative thoughts and feelings, and they need to know that there isn’t any instant remedy to help ease the pain healthily.
Which route to take?
When treating survivors of trauma it can be difficult to know what route to take. Trying to rid a client of their negative feelings around what happened to them by asking them to talk about it, could potentially make them feel much worse. Even asking these clients seemingly non invasive questions about their emotional state, such as “how are you feeling today?”, may amplify their state of depression or anger.
However, at the same time, trying to ask a client to focus on a time in the future when they won’t feel as bad as they do currently, or trying to put any form of positive spin on what happened, can make clients feel manipulated into feeling something they aren’t ready to feel yet. It might also seem as though you are trying to minimise the extent of what happened for them.
In situations like these, we need to look at how we can move our clients gently through their lives. We know that as human beings our greatest motivation to keep going lies in our relationships with other people. When we feel like we can’t cope, or don’t believe that we are worth fighting for, more often than not we will fight for those closest to us. The people that support us and the people that depend on us. Our clients are no different. By taking the focus away from themselves and turning it to their ordinary, mundane obligations, we can show them their incentive to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Slow but steady
In these early stages of treatment, things need to move slowly. It is often the simplest actions that can have the most profound effect. For example, people often laugh at the British saying that everything can be solved with a cup of tea. It may seem like something so trivial in moments of serious stress and anxiety, however the familiarity of making and drinking a cup of tea can help, simply by reminding those affected by a traumatic event, that normal life is still happening around them.
Similarly the cliched phrases such as “taking things minute by minute”, are also exactly what sometimes just needs to be done. Slowing everything down and focussing on the moment can make life seem bearable. Asking clients to make a list of everything they need to do and can feasibly achieve in a day, may help them as they can move through each task one at a time, marking them off once completed. Focusing on the small things can be enormously helpful for clients in early recovery. And things like list making allows clients to see where progress is being made, even when they feel like none is.
As contradictory as it might seem, the best distraction from past traumatic experiences is to be fully present. We may not be able to change the past for our clients, nor can we force them to be hopeful. But we can help them realise that there is no instant fix. No immediate cure that will take the pain away but, by living in the moment, and moving forward incredibly slowly, they will begin to find their own sources of hope and motivation in their daily lives and routines that will enable them to keep going.
Stop the cycle of merry-go-round treatment and find the solution you’re looking for in trauma treatment. Through effective residential treatment, Khiron Clinics can help you find the path you need toward health and wellness in recovery. For information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).