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Healing TRAUMA: Is the Trauma Therapy World Helping or Hurting People?

I’m done being silent on this issue. For years I’ve been scolded and threatened for daring to speak about healing trauma when I’m not a “licensed” specialist in this arena.

These scoldings have happened in person (when I had a private practice and began talking about what some of my clients were experiencing in session), as well as online; including recently, when I talked about why I ended the Kinetix Practitioner program early. 

In my opinion, the ones who should be teaching the world about how to heal trauma are the traumatized people who have successfully healed and found freedom.

My own traumas were profound, disturbing and deeply ingrained in my psyche and my body. I believe I’m qualified to talk about healing trauma because I healed my own, without the assistance of someone “licensed” to do so by the state.

In fact, every therapist I went to for help to heal my trauma not only did not help me to the degree I needed in order to heal, they further ingrained my trauma patterns – making it even harder the next time I sat in someone’s office to trust that healing was possible with professional help. 

The problem was this: I knew that I had a LOT of trauma to heal. I knew it would be potentially loud and messy, and if I lifted the lid I felt certain a flood would pour out that I couldn’t stop. None of this scared me, but I believed the false story I’d heard when I first realized I was traumatized: you should never attempt to heal trauma on your own. You need a qualified, trained and licensed professional to help you. 

I believed this lie, and went door to door asking therapists to help me heal as quickly as possible (because I had a life to live) and I kept getting told: “Whoa. You can’t heal trauma quickly. We have to be very careful here, and do this slowly and strategically.” 

This is the dominant narrative – still today – about healing trauma: it must be done strategically, slowly, and ONLY with qualified licensed professionals who have the proper training. 

Bullshit. 

Want to know the dominant strategy I used to heal trauma that involved deeply rooted psychological, sexual, emotional and social trauma? 

I opened the lid on my feelings while living in a house with two close friends who were 100% there for me through the process: they hugged me when I needed hugging; left me alone when I needed to be alone; they listened when I needed to talk; they held me as I cried; they witnessed my emotions and sensations and flailings (my body did some strange things while healing) without judgment, and with deep love. They trusted me. I trusted them. My stories and emotions didn’t freak them out, and in knowing that, I could finally let go of the burdens I’d been carrying. 

And I gave those same things to myself: compassion, love, space, non-judgment of all emotions and feelings; I trusted myself and my body and I witnessed myself as a loving friend might, as both adult and child began to exist in me simultaneously. 

Previously, I felt that every therapist I went to was freaked out by my story, and further alarmed by the intensity of my arising emotions. Because when my emotions got big, they tried to “calm me down” or interrupt my experience in order to “regulate my nervous system.”

But in my opinion this was the last thing that I needed, and those actions by “professionals” who were supposed to know better than me only served to further reinforce in me this belief that my emotions were in fact terrifying, the bigness of them was definitely “wrong,” and I must be defective if my natural impulses are to be feared like this. 

And in my opinion, this is the birthplace of actual trauma: other people’s inability to be with us in our pain. 

I do not believe the “events” themselves create trauma (whether abuse, assault, sexual or emotional acts of violence). I believe trauma happens immediately after, when we have no one to process those events with who will not judge us and simply be there for us. And if we attempt to share the story of the event itself, and are met with fear, judgment, shame, blame or anything less than acceptance and love, we begin to believe we’re defective and we are the source of our own pain. 

And this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: we may keep trying to seek help from people who cannot meet us, who cannot hold space, who fear our feelings or the bigness of them, and in experiencing this over and over…we further ingrain the pattern, and the trauma. 

I believe there are only 2 qualifying characteristics that we should look for when seeking someone to help us heal trauma:

  1. The person has met their own demons and confronted the depths of their own pain to such a degree that other people’s pain no longer scares them. 
  2. There’s no attachment to timelines or outcomes. Slow or fast, the pace should be determined by the traumatized person, NOT by the therapist (or person holding space). 

People who have faced their own pain are not afraid of other people’s pain. But people who have not faced their own pain, or who claim to have none to face, will likely be terrified by my pain if it is intense, loud and unpredictable. 

If you – as a therapist – are attached to my pace, whether you want me to slow down or speed up, then I won’t feel safe or met by you as I’m going through the healing process. 

If you consider these two criteria, then perhaps you’ll agree with me that pieces of paper and trainings and “qualifications” don’t have anything to do with being able to help someone heal. You could enroll a friend, family member, partner or community. Or you could be these two characteristics for yourself, and self-heal. 

Many people will say that my position here is dangerous and reckless. They’re entitled to their opinion. 

My own opinion is that the laws around separation of body and mind are outdated and hurting more people than they are helping.

But beyond this, to perpetuate the narrative that ONLY qualified and highly trained people can help you heal trauma is, I believe, equally reckless and philosophically unsound. We’ve somehow lost sight of the healing powers of friendship and family that is there for us, and we’ve outsourced authority to people with pieces of paper who may not even help us, and worse – could further traumatize us. 

I know my experience isn’t everyone’s, and I do believe there are wonderful therapists out there doing good work. But I believe they are rare. Or at least, I believe it is the rare therapist who has met their own pain to the degree necessary to be with people like me, who have undergone shocking traumatic experiences. Perhaps, for milder cases of trauma, there are more therapists who are able to meet the needs of those clients and patients. 

* Disclaimer: The contents of this blog and accompanying YouTube channel are for informational purposes only and do not render medical or psychological advice, opinion, diagnosis, or treatment. The information provided through this website is expressly the opinions of each author and should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. This is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a medical or psychological problem, you should consult your appropriate health care provider. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Links on this website are provided only as an informational resource, and it should not be implied that we recommend, endorse or approve of any of the content at the linked sites, nor are we responsible for their availability, accuracy or content.

  • Julie says:

    Elisha thank you! Your words brought me to tears as I have experienced the same inadequate professional and overpaid ‘help’ over so many frustrating years. The only person I’ve ever met who is helping me release my trauma in both physical and mental ways and learn to trust and open my heart is my myofascial trainer personal therapist/trainer, who also knows trauma. She gives me so much space and compassion that I walk away each time with a lightened and glowing heart and body.

  • Maria says:

    Trauma is a healthy response to sick circumstances and rebellion against oppression is a healthy response to threats to sovereignty and integrity.

    I have found the work of Judith Herman provides much insight, and I would like to quote her, as this applies to what you have shared:

    “She [the healee] must be the author and arbiter of her own recovery. Others may offer advice, support, assistance, affection, and care, but not cure.”

    “With trauma survivors, the therapeutic alliance cannot be taken for granted but must be painstakingly built.4 Psychotherapy requires a collaborative working relationship in which both partners act on the basis of their implicit confidence in the value and efficacy of persuasion rather than coercion, ideas rather force, mutual cooperation rather than authoritarian control.”

    There is a inseparable link between healing from trauma and a desire to end the multitude of injustices that cause it. Once one is conscious of something, this cannot be reversed. Consciousness changes us.

    Something extraordinary and beautiful is emerging in you. Trust yourself.

    • anonymous says:

      i loved your last 2 paragraphs

    • Maria – thank you for sharing! I have not heard of Judith Herman. I appreciate the quotes you shared here 🙂

  • Christi says:

    Thank you Elisha for passionately expressing your intense feelings. This is an important conversation! You brought forth some really good pointers coming from your own experience with trauma, that’s most valuable. I find that a lot of the damage comes from compartmentalizing human beings. There is a so called “specialist” for every little part of us. I like to experience myself or another person as one whole being: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually ONE. That would be a step in the good direction for healing, for making whole. Keep up the good work, you’re amazing!

    • Hi Christi – thank you for sharing, and YES to looking at human beings as whole beings, not just parts.

  • Yoda says:

    I have been thinking about your narrative and it does hold some water but I think the most basic question has not been asked or answered, What is trauma, why is it trauma. I think most healing for psychological negative events can only be healed from within but some help along the way with different perspectives and ideas from therapist, friends and family can be helpful to some while others prefer to deal with it on their own. The thing is we as a society want to help but sometimes our well meaning intentions are misplaced because of our ignorance.
    No one is ever 100% wrong or 100% right. There is always room for adjustment.

    • Asking “what is trauma” is a CRITICAL question, and something I’ve talked about elsewhere. This entire topic could fill books (and has). My definition of trauma is the inability to process and integrate an intense experience, and because it did not get processed and integrated, can get internalized and cause tension/pain/turmoil/disturbance at a physical and emotional level, whether someone is conscious of this or not. I do not define trauma as the event itself, but rather the inability (for whatever reason) to process the event/experience. And I agree that there is ALWAYS room for adjustment.

  • anonymous says:

    i don’t feel comfortable leaving my name on the internet, but as a healer i have been inwardly guided to be as vulnerable as my client. in other words not to feel like i know more or am more healed than my client or that i know what the outcome needs to be…i just follow higher guidance and have to constantly be working on myself…while the client is working on their self..to be able to open myself enough to my own pain/alienation/resistance to myself and the divine….to be able to hold the always creative/uncharted path of that individual’s healing/coming to themselves.

  • Anjeanne Weiss says:

    I am horrified you did not come across a truly good therapist. Sadly, I’ve seen many people in all areas of health and mental heath who are lacking some basic and skills.

    I’ve worked in the trauma field (relationship traumas, all forms of violence and abuse, war related traumas both the military member/paramilitary/prisoners and POW’s. PTSD. As well as folks post natural disasters and post surgical trauma) for 30 years and honestly, I’ve not met a colleague who has said you have to go slow to treat trauma and you must know about the nervous system. I think it’s important, as the therapist to understand the Neuro-psych-physio biology not so for my client. I know, educating our clients can be useful but never mandatory. That’s ridiculous.

    I’m a time sensitive therapist. Meaning, the client’s timing.

    I agree, healing exists within us and anyone who can allow you to process your pain without judgement is going to work wonders. And sometimes, that is enough. Each person is different. Many people benefit, in ways you did not, from mental health professional’s. I always want my clients to turn to those that support them outside of my office. Or I help them create a truly safe and loving support system if they do not have one. You did and that’s fantastic!! A true game changer.

    I am not a Somatic Experiencing therapist. I know Philip Levine and his work and the intense training his therapists receive which includes them working on their traumas. If you saw a true SE therapist, trained by Levine then some of the story is biased and missing.

    Which leads me to a point I’d like to raise. When a person walks into a trauma center, a therapy office, in a heightened state of trauma, a good therapist will want to work with you and try to honor your choice to move quickly. They will also want to assess your ability to move through your trauma thoroughly and not just give you a bandaid approach which is, give you space to cry then leave feeling better after the release and let you terminate therapy. You can do that with a friend. A skilled therapist knows trauma settles in the body and layers of physical and emotional patterns are consciously and subconsciously developed and applied to cope. Any therapist, if the client wants to, will facilitate deep and lasting healing from the trauma. When folks are in a traumatized state, they, quite healthy, want out of that state. I’ve never, not once, met someone who wanted to remain in their trauma.

    I can also understand why you felt like something must have been really terrible if people/therapists were treating you with kid gloves. The flip side, some people who experienced trauma greatly appreciate being treated gently. Which, is not the same as treating someone as if they are damaged beyond repair and are too fragile to do deep work.

    Therapy is a dance and a process. You have not discussed if you were willing to try things the therapists may have suggested. You blame the therapists for putting back in the care taker pattern. Did you tell them that is what was happening to you? Any decent therapist would’ve dealt with that immediately. There is no mind reading in therapy or life. Was your need to stop feeling bad outweighing the importance of also doing the work to heal those entrenched patterns from your devastating abuses? A therapist is there to guide you through that. So, if all you wanted was immediate relief like a fast food meal, therapy can offer some immediate relief and should but truly healing trauma can go in phases from quick to slower to quick before there is true resolution.

    As I listen to you, I hear your passion. I hear your heightened delivery and can see the increased tension and distress in your body as you describe your current pain you still have regarding the treatment you received or did not in the past. Your thoughts about self healing are correct. Your thoughts about therapy and therapists continue to be highly tainted by your experience and there is no description about all the other variables that were a part of your experience with therapy. Maybe you’ll discuss that in another video or maybe not. That depends on many things. In this video you continue to blame and discount therapy which shows that has not yet been healed.

    Your situation was and is devastating. It has motivated you and that’s fantastic. And, your desire to share with others is a blessing. I, as a person and a therapist, hope that you can find real balance on this topic.

    • Anjeanne – I do believe there are skilled therapists out there. For whatever reason, I never encountered any that helped me. I am always open to questions and a good debate! I have nothing to hide. I’ve shared many of my own personal stories online, the good and bad, what I’ve tried that worked and what I’ve tried that didn’t. It would be impossible to talk about all of them in one video.

      When you say “If you saw a true SE therapist, trained by Levine then some of the story is biased and misleading” – what happens in me is that I don’t feel heard or feel your genuine curiosity in learning from me and my experience. I certainly wouldn’t feel safe if you said anything like this in a therapy session, if for example I came to you after trying so many other people and attempted to share my frustration so that you are aware of my past experience with therapists. What is your intention in questioning my motivations?

      Most of your commentary here is actually questioning me and my motivations, and at the end you attempt to reflect what you see in my body language and energy. Your descriptions don’t match what I was feeling when I filmed this. You’ve mischaracterized me in your assessments (which doesn’t bother me, I just want you to know).

      You offer a few cheerleader-like words of support, but mostly I do not feel seen or heard or understood by you. Which is totally ok! Thankfully I’ve built up my muscle of being ok feeling misunderstood.

      You’ve actually done a really great job of demonstrating the entire point of this video and blog post – you seem more interested in defending therapy and therapists than in getting curious about me in a true sense of open mindedness without getting defensive or projecting onto me. Which, again, is totally fine because I didn’t make this video for therapists. I made it for other traumatized people who may feel like I do, who might feel defective as a result of engaging with therapists who cannot see them and hold space for their truth to come, and feel alone because of that…and based on the YouTube comments in particular, I know I’m far from alone. I wish the therapy world, as I said in my video, would decide to learn from traumatized people instead of limiting their training to “experts.”

      Elisha

  • Kritika says:

    Elisha…. you vocalize your feelings so very nicely!
    As you said….. healing is what is needed and not therapy.
    The person is suffering, not the back or thigh or muscles…..this healing has to come from inside…. inside our minds.
    Many traditional techniques help with the inward journey…..I found ashthanga yoga helpful.
    Wishing you health

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