Who Needs Trauma Informed Care and How Does it Help?

Experiencing a “traumatic event” is something many people have to cope with — and there is a range of situations that can be labelled as “traumatic events.” Trauma is often described as being both a physiological and a psychological wound. When we perceive a threat to our lives or experience a threatening situation, or witness serious harm occurring to another person, our response is one of being traumatized.

When we experience trauma, it can feel like being hit by a bulldozer – and the effects can be felt for months and years. A Trauma Informed Care approach helps to build an awareness of your feelings and reactions and to aid recovery through interacting with others.

What is Trauma Informed Care?

If you’ve experienced trauma and you’re looking for counseling to help your recovery, it’s important to find a counselor who understands the need to have compassion and empathy. Trauma Informed Care gives you the opportunity to work with an experienced counselor who can help you to navigate your way through the trauma journey.

Rather than being a goal to be achieved, Trauma Informed Care is much more of a way of thinking and living. At its heart is the premise that there may have been multiple experiences in life that have caused some level of trauma. What’s more, each different experience of trauma takes a toll and has a negative impact on your ability to feel safe.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2018) highlights a variety of key approaches to overcoming trauma as part of a Trauma Informed Care approach. These include recognizing the widespread impact of trauma, identifying the symptoms caused by trauma, and continuing to learn more about trauma so as to incorporate new knowledge into practice (SAMHSA, 2018).

Who Benefits from Trauma Informed Care?

There are numerous benefits of trauma informed care. By far the greatest benefit, though, having someone partner with you in the journey towards recovery and growth. Another important benefit is the feeling of being understood and listened to. Trauma Informed Care begins to bring light back into your world when it’s been overshadowed by trauma.

The Kaiser Permanete study of Adverse Childhood Experiences (also referred to as ACEs) has shown that 1 in 4 people have experienced some kind of traumatic event. These definitions of trauma are broader than are commonly imagined – so while sudden events like combat violence or serious car accidents are readily recognized as causes of trauma, you can experience trauma without recognizing it as trauma.

Some of the most commonly overlooked types of trauma are those that happen in early childhood when it’s more difficult to recognize the way that trauma has impacted you. Additionally, each individual is impacted in different ways by their experiences and this is something that Trauma Informed Care recognizes.

Trauma Informed Care, therefore, isn’t only beneficial for people who have experienced the more obvious kinds of trauma. Rather, it can help anyone – because one of the biggest challenges when seeking out counseling is finding someone that you feel will understand your issues more deeply than just the surface level. The focus on empathy in trauma informed care is a huge benefit.

When you’ve experienced trauma, you may feel isolated and alone because of the sense of others not understanding what you’re going through. Trauma distorts the way that we think, so it’s important to find a mental health professional who can help you to identify your distorted thinking. A compassionate counselor who is committed to listening to you is vital.

Compassion is at the center of Trauma Informed Care – both toward others and toward the scars that trauma leaves behind. A trauma informed care approach, then, conveys an important message when you’re hurting: “I see your pain, I understand how you’re struggling, and I will walk with you and guide you to grow in strength to overcome the past and build a sense of hope.”

When you have hope, you have the power that comes from knowing that you’re going to get through the most difficult times and emerge stronger. Trauma Informed Care has the benefit of restoring your thinking patterns and helping you to recognize that you are not defined by the trauma that you have experienced.

What Impact Does Trauma Informed Care Have?

With trauma at its core, the biggest impact that Trauma Informed Care has is in revealing distorted thought patterns. With distorted thought patterns come feelings of fear, anger, shame, and guilt. Together these are considered to be the “four horsemen” of trauma.

Left unchecked, these feelings can be destructive, keeping you trapped in your trauma. When you are able to identify and name them, you start to take control and reduce the power that they have over you. Once you become aware of how the feelings are controlling your life, you’re able to start on the journey toward recovery.

Psychology Today (2017) has highlighted that when you’ve experienced trauma, the emotions you feel are not necessary the ones that you expect to feel. A trauma informed care approach helps you to recognize this and offers the opportunity to experience hope and healing as you are helped by your counselor’s empathy and sensitivity toward you.

When you’ve experienced trauma, ordinary medical care can feel very impersonal. It’s more difficult to discuss the impact that trauma is having on your life with a primary care physician. Even when you mention things like feeling down, having difficulty sleeping and feeling disconnected from yourself and others, the solutions offered are often limited to a prescription to help you sleep. But when you do sleep, you may experience nightmares or feel groggy making it feel like your attempts to recover are in vain.

By encouraging you to build a connection and communicate with your counsellor and your loved ones, Trauma Informed Care takes a different approach to fighting the battle for recovery from trauma. It offers the space you need to share the burden of what you’re carrying. Living with trauma can feel like carrying a heavy weight around your neck, and each day you’re faced with a need to put on a mask that pretends that you’re fine – when really, you’re anything but.

Trauma Informed Care helps to build a greater level of resilience by treating the whole person. Understanding past trauma and the way that you respond to and handle trauma is an important part of the process. Trauma Informed Care respects where you are on the journey toward recovery and meets you where you are – removing the need for you to pretend that you’re doing better than you are. This is essential for healing.

When you are a trauma survivor, you may feel like your life is overshadowed by oppressive feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. You may be plagued by worries about the future and fears of reminders of the past. It’s important to realize that no matter what you have experienced, there is always hope in Jesus Christ. He offers the opportunity to rest and find peace within His grace.

A Christian View of Trauma Informed Care

“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He led them from the darkness and deepest gloom; he snapped their chains. Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. For he broke down their prison gates of bronze; he cut apart their bars of iron. – Psalm 107:13-16

At the root of Trauma Informed Care is the desire to answer Jesus’ call to care for the brokenhearted. Going through traumatic experiences can be compared to the “valley of the shadow of death” from Psalm 23.

It’s important to recognize that when we are in the midst of, or recovering from trauma, God sees us, and is heartbroken for us. The Bible tells us that God sees every single tear that we shed, whether physical tears from our eyes or figurative tears from the heart. God is always present in your life.

Are you familiar with the poem “Footprints in the Sand”? In it, the poet Mary Fishback Powers describes a dream about walking across a sandy beach with God. The poem shows how we often feel, in the lowest, saddest and most desperate times in our lives, it can feel like there is only one set of footprints in the sand as if God has left us.

In the poem, the poet cries out to God in desperation, asking where He was during those awful times. God’s response is both simple and profound: “It was in those moments that I was carrying you.” God promises never to leave nor forsake us – and He never breaks that promise.

In Trauma Informed Care, all Christians are called to shine the light of God’s hope onto those who are broken.

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies are new every morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”Lamentations 3:21-24

When you’ve experienced trauma, it’s common to feel that it would be impossible for anyone to be able to understand the depths of the pain that you have experienced (and continue to feel). You may feel that everyone (including God) has abandoned you. While these feelings are real, they are not true.

God reaches out to us in the moments when we are feeling the most desperate. In Isaiah 41:10, he says, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

God loves to restore joy to the brokenhearted. The Bible tells us in many places that God has a huge amount of love and care for people who feel that the weight of the world is crushing them. In fact, there are 65 places in the Bible that show God’s view on trauma and His faithfulness to those who have experienced it.

Because God has so much compassion for us, when we rest in his love, we can receive a spirit of hope and peace. Trauma Informed Care builds on this, by not only seeing you as a whole person but also seeing (and helping you to see) how God sees you through His eyes.

You only have to look at the story of the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus (in the Gospel of John) to see that Jesus too experienced trauma and heartache. We see this in Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus’ death – he wept. This is just a demonstration of the depth of compassion that God has for those in pain. God is always near to those who feel brokenhearted. Psalm 145:18 says, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”

Christian counseling recognizes God’s presence in the midst of the Trauma Informed Care journey. The Lord is, according to the Bible, the Great Counselor. He longs to free us from the weight of the trials that we experience in life. Therefore, in Christian Trauma Informed Care, God joins in restoring the broken and both counselors and counselees stand on God’s promises for the restoration of hope.

Let Hope Arise

Getting the support you need to overcome the impact of trauma on your life is a hugely powerful and loving choice. When you begin to seek help, you are acknowledging that the trauma of the past does not have to define you for the rest of your life. In itself, trauma can leave you feeling powerless and hopeless but starting the journey to recovery is taking back some of that power.

When you reach out for counseling with someone who is trained and certified in treating trauma, you are acknowledging that there can be hope for the future and it starts today. Exploring Trauma Informed Care is a first step towards experiencing power and love.

Trauma-focused counselors seek to demonstrate to you that they see you, they hear you, and they can walk every step of the journey alongside you. They aim to empower you to tackle the challenges that will arise as you recover and regain the understanding that God loves every part of you – including the broken parts that you are ashamed of.

Reach out to one of our specialist trauma counselors and book an evaluation to see how you can let hope arise within you once more. Our counselors are ready to help you to break free from the burden on trauma and enable you to see that you are worth the investment. The recovery process may be long and at times difficult, but the effort is worth it to equip you to face battles in the future.

References:

Colson, Denice. (2016). Implementing trauma-informed care in Christian Counseling. Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/DeniceColson/implementing-traumainformed-care-in-christian-counseling

Psychology Today. (2017). Trauma informed care and why it matters. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-day-slavery/201707/trauma-informed-care-and-why-it-matters

SAMHSA (2018). Trauma-Informed Approach and Trauma-Specific Interventions. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/nctic/trauma-interventions

Photos:
“Beautiful Lady”, Courtesy of it’s me neosiam, Pexels.com; CC0 License; “Fog,” courtesy of Etienne Desclides, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Alone,” courtesy of pixabay.com, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Woman Praying”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Common Signs of Abuse and What to Do About It

Domestic abuse used to be a somewhat hidden topic. It may have seemed too shameful to speak about, especially because of the strong possibility that disclosure would be met with skepticism. Although it’s become more acceptable to talk about abuse today, victims are still often met with disbelief or blame. For this reason, among others, they are often afraid to talk about their experience.

In this article, we’ll discuss the most statistically prevalent form of abuse, which is committed by a male perpetrator on a female victim. (It is possible for any gender to commit abuse, which means men can be victims as well.)

Here are some of the most frequent questions I am asked as a domestic abuse counselor:

  • If there’s no physical violence, is it really abuse?
  • If he’s never touched me but is threatening and controlling, is this abuse?
  • Is it possible to fix the relationship?

I want this article to be a place to define domestic abuse. I’ll also list some of the most common signs for outsiders to be aware of, and for victims to be able to confirm that what they are experiencing is indeed abuse. I’ll also outline what steps a victim can take upon finding themselves in an abusive situation.

The Definition of Domestic Abuse

Abuse is rooted in a sense of entitlement and a desire for control. The attempt to control can involve many different behaviors, including threats, fear-mongering, physical violence, or other attempts to limit the victim’s independence.

Domestic abuse does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone. Its cyclical nature traps victims into believing that it’s eventually going to change, but then it never does. It crosses socio-economic, racial, and religious barriers, and it can happen to victims of any age.

Because of how insidious domestic abuse is, it’s often difficult for victims to fully acknowledge what’s happening to them. Domestic abuse tends to escalate over time, making the victim’s situation increasingly dangerous.

Acknowledging the abuse is the first step. Recognizing what’s happening to you includes the realization that you are worth far more than this and don’t deserve to be treated in such a way (although the abuser will try to blame you).

Meeting with a professional can be the next step, but make sure that you are doing so safely to avoid retaliatory actions from your abuser. When a victim takes even a small step towards independence, abuse can escalate quickly.

Common Signs of Abuse: The Power and Control Wheel

The “Power and Control Wheel” is a resource used by the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It divides abuse into eight categories, which you can see in the following image. Here you’ll see that abuse includes but is not limited to physical actions.

Coercion and threats: This can include self-harm, threats of suicide, or threats to hurt you or someone you love. Possible threats include violent ones, but other forms of harm are included as well.

An abuser may threaten to get you in trouble in some way or take something you value. These threats are made in order to intimidate you so you’ll submit to their demands or allow them to further abuse you. Threats of self-harm may also be used, in order to guilt you into giving in to the abuser’s demands.

Domestic abuse does not always happen how you might think. It can start small and build up from there. Often, abusers choose kind-hearted, empathetic victims whose very strengths are used against them. The victims are then manipulated into a life of submission to a controlling, abusive partner.

Intimidation: This form of abuse is related to coercion and threats. Intimidation describes the instilling of fear to force the victim into compliance. If the victim does not comply, she knows there will be consequences.

Emotional abuse: This type of abuse can be easy to hide or deny. Since it doesn’t leave physical scars, the abuser often claims the abuse didn’t happen or that the victim is exaggerating, being overly sensitive, etc.

Emotional abuse is a pattern of mind games, put-downs, insults that may or may not be disguised as jokes, minimizing, denying, blame-shifting, gaslighting, using male privilege, and more. The effect of this over time is that the victim’s confidence and self-worth drastically deteriorate. The victim then finds herself constantly seeking the intermittent reinforcement (periods of affection, approval, compliments, etc.) that the abuser periodically doles out.

This type of abuse can seem subtle, but it can eventually overtake the entire relationship and become normalized. When you’re coming to terms with emotional abuse, you need to know that it is not okay for your partner to degrade you, bully you, or verbally abuse you.

Emotionally abusive partners will seek (whether consciously or subconsciously) to condition their victim to accept this unacceptable and cruel behavior, but it is not normal or acceptable, and you do not deserve it.

Isolation is another form of control used by abusive partners. Little by little, the abuser removes your independence. You lose control over your time, spend less time with your friends and family, and become completely absorbed in the relationship. Not only does this isolation enable more abuse to take place, but it also removes both witnesses and influencers who could help break the cycle.

Over time, the abuse escalates as the victim becomes more isolated, and then she has no one to talk to. This benefits the abuser because the more isolated the victim is, the less likely someone will convince her that he’s abusive and she needs to leave.

Many domestic abusers will minimize and deny that the abuse is even happening. The abuser can also blame their significant other for the abuse. This can be very confusing for the victim. I have heard clients say things like, “Am I going crazy? Is this really not happening?” This is all part of the abuser’s control tactics, by making you feel “crazy” and/or confused, and he can keep the abuse going.

Minimizing and denying: This is an integral part of abuse. Very few abusers are violent, angry, or mean 24/7. They intersperse their abuse with occasional good treatment (although this can become more and more rare as the abuse escalates).

This keeps the victim confused and off-balance. She might think that the latest abusive incident is the last one. She might think it’s her fault, which he would like to convince her of, especially if she responds emotionally or angrily to his treatment of her.

Often the abuser will convince the victim that his treatment of her is not that big of a deal, that she’s just too sensitive, that all relationships are like this, or that it didn’t happen at all. (This is especially powerful if he is not physically violent but sticks to emotional abuse. How can she prove it, even to herself?)

Abusers also gaslight their victims by claiming to forget an abusive incident or twisting it to make it seem like it happened differently than it did.

Using children: Abusive partners often use children as pawns in their quest to control their victim. They take advantage of a mother’s fierce maternal instincts and manipulate that love to intimidate, threaten, manipulate, and/or demean her.

One of the most frequent and potent examples of this is when an abuser threatens to take the kids and prevent the victim from seeing them. He does this so she will agree to his terms. It can be terrifying to encounter this and know what to do next to both escape the abuse and not lose the children.

Male privilege: This type of abuse is when a man uses his gender as a basis for power and control. He bases his demands on the fact that he is the man of the house, or on his twisted view of traditional gender roles. Many healthy marriages are based on traditional gender roles, but it is not healthy when a man uses “gender roles” to control his partner.

He does this to create an imbalance of power so he can make unilateral decisions without taking her thoughts or wishes into account. This leads to a feeling of helplessness on the part of the victim. She might feel as if she has no say in anything about her life or decisions for the family.

Economic abuse: This is another form of subtle abuse that is very difficult to identify and address. It involves the woman being financially dependent and the man using this to control her and benefit himself. This can take many forms, and it can happen whether or not she is working herself.

What Should I Do Now?

If you have read this and started to realize that you are in an abusive relationship, or maybe that someone you know is, it’s important to know what to do next.

Assessing the safety and risks is the important factor. Once a woman begins to make efforts to change the relationship or to leave the situation, the risk of violence increases exponentially. Making a safety plan is paramount if you believe there is even the slightest risk of violence.

Listen to your intuition; it’s a powerful ally. Physical abuse can begin suddenly even if only non-physical abuse was happening before. The National Domestic Hotline (1-800-799-7233) can be a good place to start assessing your safety and deciding what to do next.

Seek Counseling

A counselor can be an invaluable resource if you feel that you are experiencing domestic abuse. The isolation of abuse can make freedom seem almost impossible to attain. Doing it alone is overwhelming, and it’s easy for the abuser to maintain control.

The support and professional guidance you’ll receive from a Christian counselor can help alleviate the anxiety of this process. We will walk with you as you begin your journey to safety, freedom, and healing.

Escaping a domestic abuse situation is not simple. A counselor can help you to carry out the next indicated actions, as well as providing practical help making a safety plan, finding lawyers, medical professionals, understanding the law, and more.

The emotions and possibly trauma involved in domestic abuse will require a committed and extended recovery process. Feelings of low self-worth are common and normal after abuse. Counseling can help you process what you’ve been through and find a healthy place of recovery, hope, and personal growth.

The Lord provides comfort for His children. We want to help you seek a relationship with Him so that you can lean on Him each day of this difficult journey. He loves you and does not desire for you to be abused and mistreated.

“I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4) As Christian counselors, we desire to be instruments of His freedom and healing. You do not have to go through this alone.

Photos:
“Alone,” courtesy of Tiko Giorgadze, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hurt”, Courtesy of Dmitry Ratushny, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Victim”, Courtesy of Zach Guinta, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reflection”, Courtesy of AKi Kikuti, Flickr.com, CC 2.0 License