But What If It’s Trauma?

Please note: Not all deaths cause trauma. Not all grief is traumatic. But sometimes, for reasons that are not always clear, a death triggers a traumatic response. When it does, life becomes unmanageable for years until it is properly treated.

Title Graphic: But What If It's Trauma?

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been hearing some horrific stories of loss.

They’ve been showing up in my email and on social media, and they have one thing in common…they are NOT ABOUT GRIEF. At least they are not only about grief.

These are stories about TRAUMA.

Before any of us can heal, we have to accurately identify the problem. Trying to treat trauma as if it is normal grief is not going to end well.

So here’s some tough love folks…

You cannot heal from trauma by yourself, and you cannot heal from trauma hanging out in grief groups on Facebook or watching YouTube videos.

Trauma needs treatment.

Trauma needs to be treated by a mental health professional who specializes in trauma.

When you look up the symptoms of trauma, you will often find a list of symptoms that look like a list of normal grief reactions. That grief and trauma sound so similar adds to the confusion. Though related, grief and trauma are not the same.

The hallmark of a normal grieving process is how fluid it is. Normal grief keeps moving, and the acute grief of the first year has generally resolved somewhere between the first and second year, sometimes the third.

That’s not at all true with trauma, especially if you are still experiencing the symptoms of early grief years down the line…5, 10, 15 years of acute symptoms is NOT normal grief. That is a trauma response.

For the most part, I’ve been hearing stories of extreme, unrelenting fear and anger, leading to abandonment by friends and family who probably feel like they are being driven away. That abandonment deepens the trauma.

I expect there are other issues I am not hearing. Drug and alcohol abuse is a common response to trauma, as are other addictions and compulsions. I talked to someone yesterday who had lost 50 pounds following a death because she just stopped eating.

So what do you do?

• Be honest with yourself about what is really going on. 

• Learn about trauma. The book, The Body Keeps Score*, is a good place to start. 

• Find a therapist who specializes in trauma, and is trained in multiple modalities.

What I can, and cannot do to help.

You didn’t think I’d abandon you here, did you?

I cannot be your therapist.

  • I am offering education and coaching, not therapy.
  • Though I’ve done some good work with trauma survivors, I do not consider myself an expert.
  • I am not accepting many 1:1 clients at this time. Those I am accepting, need support through normal grief and particularly help with the integration phase in the 2nd or 3rd year.
  • I am only licensed in Massachusetts. That doesn’t help those of you from across the globe.
  • Trauma therapy should be done in person, and these days I am working exclusively online.

What I can do.

I can coach you on how to find the right therapist for you.

Finding a therapist can be a difficult and mysterious process and I can help you come up with a strategic plan for finding the right person, team, or modalities for you.

Groups and courses I am developing would be valuable for you but only as a part of a comprehensive plan developed with your therapist.

For example, writing in and of itself will not be the sole answer, but writing as an adjunct to your therapy would be very beneficial.

Meditation which I also teach would fall in that category. Yoga is a modality I do not teach (though I may bring someone in down the line) but is one that might be very helpful as well. 

So a comprehensive plan might include a therapist, EMDR or EFT (research shows both of these can help with trauma), a regular writing practice, and a yoga class.

Or it might be a therapist, biofeedback, singing, and medication.

Or it might be a therapist, learning to drum, body-centered meditations, and taking a dance class.

See the common denominator? A primary therapist is an essential part of the plan, and any number of other modalities can and should go along with the therapy.

Here’s what I would generally recommend

1. Get a copy of The Body Keeps Score* by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. He is a leading researcher on trauma and the impact of trauma on the brain. Pay particular attention to Part Five: Paths to Recovery (begins on page 203).

2. Schedule a single session consult with me during which we can put together a beginning plan of action which will include how to find the right therapist for you. Just reply to this email to request a consult. Find out more about single session consults and my fair pricing policy.

3. You are welcome to take any of the classes I will be rolling out over the next year or two. Much of what I offer for grief is also helpful for trauma as long as you understand none of them will take the place of trauma-focused therapy. The waitlist is open for Writing Your Way Through Grief.

Your traumatic response is perfectly understandable given the nature of your loss(es). Please don’t let shame keep you from seeking the help you need.

You deserve to live a purposeful and meaningful life without constantly tripping over the trauma. It will never be the same life but it can still be a mighty good one. 

Questions? Let me know.

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