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Navigating the Line of Trauma Work

The ultimate goal in life is to cope and be able to wake up in the morning and be as productive as possible. This can be extended into making meaning- doing activities or work that is aligned with our values or our interests in that we connect emotionally with our lived experience.

Sometimes our life's journey is painful and in order to cope we really need to step outside of ourselves, so to speak. The traumas and tragedies are so impactful that without our shutting those associated memories and attached feelings off, we may literally be unable to get up in the morning, unable to do meaningful work, unable to make purpose out of suffering- in fact we may even self harm, use alcohol or other drug addictions to redirect us away from the memories, experience panic attacks, even direct our feelings outwards and become physically violent to others. Those organic reactions are our way of "staying alive" and navigating (albeit harmful) our lived history.

As a therapist it is crucial to acknowledge the covert or hidden purpose of "destructive" ways of being, to recognize what it can mean to remove those "avoidances", some may ironically call them "safety" measures that we are removing. There is a balancing act in these situations- When and how much awareness of ones inner experience should be unpacked in therapy? Harm reduction is key here. If one begins unpacking memories and attached emotions too soon this may become contra-indicative. For example the person may suddenly report more suicidal ideation or an increase in panic attacks.

Also trauma informed therapy should also always be balanced out with addressing new meaning and motivation in the here and now. Questions like "what do you look forward to in life?" "What has excited you in the past"? "What meaning do you attain from your work"? "

One can also for some people tap into their existential beliefs, while unpacking the pain. Research has shown that unique forms of spiritual connection serve to support people in challenges. "Do you feel a connection to the universe in any way?, "How do your trips to nature impact your sense of self?" I have had numerous clients gaining some sort of "safety" from tapping into the notion that "there is something bigger than me".

Therefore balancing the unpacking of trauma with meanings found in the present is a means of reducing rumination risks. However when the person is assessed as resilient enough than it is crucial to "relive" the experience through the body too (somatic therapies). For example "my head feels light", "my heart races", "my breathing is stuck in my chest". Further when the reliving of trauma is experienced through thoughts and feelings, it is also imperative to suspend judgements and simply perceive what it means to "be" in the trauma.

Ultimately our goal is to navigate our present reality in the safest and most meaningful way. Thus it is life saving to be aware of harm reduction in working with people and to tow the line around heightened levels of awareness in coping.

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