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Monday, September 29, 2014

Psychotherapy Blog: Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Experiences of the Past: Part 2

In my last article, Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Experiences of the Past: Part 1,  I wrote about how past experiences can get triggered in the present and gave short scenarios as examples.

Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Experience of the Past

In this article, I will give a composite case to show how trauma therapy can help clients in therapy to overcome this problem.

The following scenario, as always, is a composite of many different therapy cases:

Ed
Ed began therapy because he was having a very difficult time at work with a supervisor who was a bully.

Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Experiences of the Past 

He was aware that many of colleagues also had problems with this boss, but he couldn't understand why he froze in fear whenever this supervisor bullied him.  Ed knew that he was considered one of the company's top employees, and that he wasn't going to be fired.  He also knew that  his supervisor often blew off steam at the expense of employees and after he blew off steam, he would calm down again, as if he never lost his temper.

But knowing all of this didn't help Ed, and he couldn't understand why.  He just didn't seem logical to him.

Ed discussed his early history, which included a father with an explosive temper, who often hit Ed's mother, Ed and Ed's siblings.

Even though he still resented his father for how he lost his temper when Ed was a child, Ed and his father began to get along better after Ed became an adult.

His father got help in therapy when Ed was in his late teens, and his father discovered that he had post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his military experience.  Getting help allowed Ed's father to work through his rage and fear in therapy, so he no longer lost his temper with Ed and his family.

After hearing about Ed's history, I provided him with psychoeducation about trauma, including how past trauma can get triggered in the present as well how intergenerational trauma (his father's PTSD) might have affected Ed and his family (see my article:  Psychotherapy and Transgenerational Trauma).

As Ed described his reaction to his father when Ed was a child and his reaction to his current supervisor  in his current situation, there were obvious parallels.

Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Experiences of the Past

As we discussed this, Ed could see it, but his new insight about this wasn't enough to stop him from getting triggered whenever his supervisor lost his temper so, as a first step, we worked on developing the necessary coping skills to help calm himself during the supervisor's outbursts.

Developing these coping skills, which included mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises was a good first step to help Ed to calm himself after he reacted to his supervisor's outbursts (see my articles:  The Mind Body Connection: Mindfulness Meditation and Learning to Relax: Square Breathing).

The next step in therapy was for Ed and I to deal with his past trauma using EMDR, a mind-body oriented therapy that was developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. to help clients overcome trauma.

Whereas talk therapy is usually a top-down therapeutic approach, EMDR and other mind-body oriented  types of therapy are a bottom-up approach (see my article:  Mind-Body Psychotherapy: The Body is a Window Into the Unconscious).

Gradually, Ed began to work through his early trauma related to the abuse he experienced and also the abuse that he witnessed as a child.

Once he worked through his personal trauma, although he found it annoying, he was no longer triggered by his supervisor's temper.  He also took positive action on his own behalf and found another job with a healthier work environment.

Getting Help in Therapy
EMDR isn't a "quick fix" and each person will process trauma in his or her own way.  However, EMDR and other types of mind-body oriented therapy, like Somatic Experience and clinical hypnosis, are usually more effective in resolving trauma than talk therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy

If you are struggling with unresolved emotional trauma, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional who is a trauma therapist.

Once you have worked through your emotional trauma, you can be free to live your life without getting emotionally triggered by your past.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up an appointment for a consultation, please call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

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