I know it sounds strange to hear a trauma therapist warning you to slow down when it comes to healing from your past but the truth is you can inadvertently be retraumatized if things are not conducted in the correct ways. This is especially true if you are a person with a complex trauma history (more than one traumatic experience) or if your trauma included physically or sexually unsafe situations.
If you have experienced trauma and you are considering processing your trauma history here are some things to consider first...
You may feel ready to tell your story, even want to talk about it. But it’s important that your emotional foundation be prepared for this work. Processing trauma requires you to talk about what happened in the past while staying grounded in the present. Your brain needs to be in the right place, meaning all parts are working and online.
Here a 5 signs to pump the brakes.
1. You’re working with some who is not adequately trained
Someone who has healed from trauma and someone who is licensed and trained to help others heal are two very different things. There’s a growing trend of trauma coaches and healers who are not adequately trained to guide other people through this process. People with professions that are regulated by licenses (like therapists) have additional legal and ethical requirements for continued education and training that nonregulated professions are missing. These regulations exist to protect you from harm. There’s no overseeing body to hold unlicensed professionals accountable if they are unprofessional in any way
You also want a therapist who has had additional training in treating trauma. I consider myself a trauma specialist and I’ve attended almost 100 hours of advanced training related to treating trauma related disorders on top of a master’s degree. And I still have a lot to learn. Even after a decade in this field, I still regularly consult with peers or professionals with more advanced training about the work I’m doing to ensure no harm is caused and I’m doing the best work possible.
2. You easily get overwhelmed and have a hard time calming back down
Processing trauma will be emotional but if you haven’t developed the skills to regulate your emotions you could get into hot water. You need to be able to tolerate emotional intensity as well as be able to identify the difference between intense emotions and unhelpful emotional intensity. You and your therapist should have a well practiced plan of exactly what you will do in and out of session if you become too overwhelmed. Just like a fire drill, it’s important that these skills are rehearsed before you experience too much emotional intensity so you will be better prepared to use your personal self-care plan when you start your trauma work.
You need to be able to articulate to your therapist that you are no longer ok. And your therapist needs to be trained to identify warning signs that you are out of your window of tolerance.
One of the difficult impacts of trauma is emotional shut downs and dissociation (think the opposite of panic). These are protective defenses but they cut you off from your inner and sometimes out world and are signs that you are overwhelmed and flooded. You may look and feel completely fine but are actually cut off from deep pain and proceeding in this state can cause more harm. To talk through traumatic memories while disconnected like this will not actually process the trauma.
3. You have other major stressors going on
If you are in the middle of a move, job change, recently had a baby, or some other major life event, now may not be the right time to start this type of work. It’s important to have some type of balance and stability before going back into the past.
4. You’re not ready for the emotional upheaval that comes with processing trauma.
Reprocessing trauma means emotionally revisiting what you experienced. This impacts work, relationships, daily activities, and more because you will be emotional. It’s psychological work that can be really heavy and painful. You want to be prepared to take this on.
5. You just don’t feel ready
You may realize the benefit of addressing your trauma and still not feel ready to do so. This is a deeply personal choice and only you can decide when is the right time for you to revisit history. Even if you have all of the other pieces in place, it may not be the right time.
Undertaking the work of healing from trauma is no small feat. Make sure it’s something you chose to do when you feel ready, prepared, and supported.