- SPECIALTIES -
WHAT IS COMPLEX TRAUMA?
Complex trauma is trauma that refers to an individual's exposure to multiple traumas and the long-lasting effects that repeated and chronic trauma can have on an individual. Sometimes referred to as developmental trauma, complex trauma usually occurs in early life and can disrupt an individual's development and the formation of the sense of self. Instead of focusing on thriving, a developing brain exposed to trauma focuses on surviving. Common causes of complex trauma include childhood abuse and neglect, experiencing or witnessing domestic violence, chronic medical procedures, or even persistent bullying. Unlike the single layers of simple trauma, the multiple layers of complex trauma can lead to more complicated symptoms thus requiring more specialized treatment to fully address each layer of the trauma. Trauma processing modalities such as EMDR and Somatic Experiencing have been proven to ease the effects of posttraumatic stress symptoms by tapping into the body's innate ability to heal, but if dissociation is present, many clients may experience an impasse in healing. Therefore, dissociation also needs to be addressed.
OKAY, SO WHAT IS DISSOCIATION?
Dissociation is anytime a person is not being fully in the present moment. Every person dissociates to some degree, whether it be making a to-do list in your head while in mid-conversation, daydreaming, or forgetting where you put your keys. But dissociation becomes more severe when an individual experiences chronic stress and therefore relies on the dissociation to detach from harsh realities. If severe enough, what was once a creative solution to a complex problem, the solution becomes the problem itself. Problematic dissociation can come in the form or escaping a painful past through addictive behavior, loss of time, loss of memory, inability to experience emotions, a sense of not being in one's body or that the world around oneself seems unreal, or even confusion about one's sense of identity. Dissociation is a powerful coping mechanism to detach from painful feelings and experiences but the avoidance of internal and external experiences can get in the way of being able to tap into the mind, body, and soul's innate ability to heal. Hence the roadblock many complex trauma survivors tend to run into when trying to heal from their trauma. So how do we work through dissociation? By helping a client learn to ground and feel safe enough to stay in the present.
WHAT DOES ATTACHMENT HAVE TO DO WITH ALL OF THIS?
Unfortunately, when a brain develops around survival, it can be hard to trust ourselves, others, and/or our environment, especially if the trauma occurred due to a person or an environment we were supposed to be able to trust. Relational trauma can lead one to feel anxious if someone may leave us and/or afraid that one will get hurt in a relationship with another. In turn, healing attachment wounds becomes imperative in being able to create a safe enough environment to live in the present. In my years of working with complex trauma, I have found that a safe connection helps foster the innate healing process and reduces the need to dissociate. My work with those with attachment difficulties include modeling a safe connection through the therapeutic relationship while helping one identify safe supports and community. When appropriate, partners or family that the client identifies as supports may join sessions to help increase a sense of safety during trauma processing and to learn how to support a trauma survivor.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.
I have found that these three issues of trauma, dissociation, and attachment tend to be at the core of other common mental health issues including, addiction, relationship issues, chronic feelings of low motivation, persistent depression and anxiety, difficulty managing anger, and unresolved grief. Once these three core issues start to resolve, I've noticed that these other mental health symptoms also seem to dissipate.