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What is trauma anyway?

When I first started to realize that the population I best serve as a therapist are those with a trauma history, it felt a bit overwhelming and nebulous at first.  The word trauma is heavy and it is a lot to unpack.  I still associate the word trauma with Grey’s Anatomy, gunshot wounds, and war.  It feels like a grisly untouchable word that can be hard to approach or understand.  Very often, when I first meet a client we sit to explore the word trauma together.  I share my understanding of it’s definition as I see it and we go from there.  I don’t think the word “trauma” necessarily fits perfectly with the experiences of the clients I serve; words can sometimes be woefully inadequate to describe much of the human experience.

For me, trauma is any experience that was overwhelming or difficult to bear.  What is a traumatic experience for one person might not be for someone else.  Traumatic experiences can look like big scary events or they can look like a smaller event or a series of events.  Sometimes traumatic events are things that happened to us and sometimes they are things we needed that we didn’t get.  Someone who experienced significant childhood abuse and neglect at the hands of their caregiver likely has a different lived experience from a person who recently experienced a serious car accident but grew up with generally “good enough” parenting.  Both of those experiences are overwhelming, and one does not trump the other. 

We have all had overwhelming life experiences to some degree.  As my favorite social worker Brene Brown says so perfectly, “we are all hardwired for struggle.”  None of us escapes the experience of life without some chaos, overwhelm, and upheaval.  When you decide to seek out trauma-informed counseling here, what you’ll find is that you are met with curiosity and not judgment.  Your unique life experiences have led you to my office and it is my job to sit back and let you teach me about you so you can establish your own healing and wellness.  Everyone’s lived experiences are different and so are the paths to healing.  Wherever you find yourself on your journey, you are welcome.