Entering a new decade is an important time to look at where we are and where we’d like to go. It’s a chance to leave behind old ways that have not been so helpful and embrace new ways — the kinder, more trauma-informed, more compassionate ways that nurture our best selves. When it comes to mental health, I’d like to move past the things that aren’t serving us as individuals, families, communities, or human beings—and embrace and enhance the ones that are.
When someone has a mental health issue or illness, therapists look to a diagnosis, so we can better understand it, gather information about it and treat it precisely as mental health professionals.
However, sometimes the terms themselves may add to the challenges in working with the patient. I admit, I’m troubled by the diagnostic term borderline personality disorder (BPD). The negative traits and pathologizing language usually associated with this term make it hard to use the terminology or diagnosis without also being extremely detrimental to the client. These kinds of terms can then worsen the problem of the stigma associated with mental illness, which we all have to confront. When we use certain terms, we may unwillingly subject people to prejudice, judgment and stigma that can prevent them from getting help, receiving compassion, and seeking out a trauma-informed approach to treatment. This is not okay!
*Spoiler warning: This article reveals the general storylines of Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody*
Have you seen the film Rocketman yet? I hope you do! Here’s why I think it’s a beautiful movie that everyone should see. Like the film Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman provides a powerful example of how attachment trauma in childhood can fuel a cycle of shame, pain, and addiction. Even better, it also reveals a pathway to recovery. Rocketman is trauma-informed because it helps us understand how emotional injuries impact a trauma survivor’s behavior and what that person needs for growth and healing. Through compassion, support and reparative relationships, healing is possible.
I love to see that more movie studios are choosing projects based on real life to create a safe space to show pain and healing. When I look at these movies through a trauma-informed lens, I see huge potential to promote greater compassion and understanding for all.
Some of my clients have called feelings “the other f-word.”
Can feelings be scary? Yes, they can, especially if the emotions you experienced early in life felt overwhelming or were ignored. You may have a fear of emotions if no one helped you learn to regulate, comfort or understand them. You probably tried to do anything you could to not have them!
A question new clients often ask is, “How long is therapy going to take?” They are eager to feel better, heal and move forward. They want to pour out all the details of their story during the first session because they think it might help them heal trauma faster. But, because we are dealing with emotional pain or even trauma, we have to slow down and take it one step at a time.
There are numerous approaches to psychotherapy. I’ve studied many. Because there is never a one-size-fits-all approach, I integrate many therapeutic approaches into my work with clients. One thing I can say for sure is that, in my experience, a bottom-up approach to therapy works better in trauma-informed care. In my experience, it is the best all-encompassing approach to help create healing, and lasting change in a person’s ability to think, feel, and find healthier ways to live after trauma.
Some people seem to believe that when it comes to trauma, size matters. We even have terminology that allows us to talk as if some types of trauma are less damaging, less serious, or matter less than others.
Sometimes people will describe someone’s trauma as “Big T (Big Trauma)” or “Little T (Little Trauma)”—and today, I’m calling for an end to this type of nomenclature.
Has there been a rift in your relationship that feels painful, frustrating, or irreparable?
Do both people want to show up and work on it—hoping to find a way forward?
Have you ever struggled to get past a vague sense of hurt, or a gut-wrenching life experience? People sometimes feel stuck with the same old job, the same pain or fear, or the same daily grind. Maybe, deep down, you feel you’re not good enough, worthy, or capable of a better life. Such self-limiting behaviors may be after-effects of trauma. A therapeutic treatment to heal deep trauma is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR.
Chances are, many of you reading this have experienced sexual violence or know someone who has. Unfortunately, intense shame around sex confuses the path to healing for many people who have experienced trauma.