Trauma Experts Share Tips for Overcoming Trauma

Dan Pierce from Mentally Fit and Dr. Kate Balestrieri, PSYD talk about the answer to the question "What is Trauma?" as well as a number of related topics--including a few types of trauma that are often overlooked.
Trauma Experts respond with their take on the subject.

Trauma Experts respond

Dr. Sherrie Campbell, PhD psychologist

I run a private practice in North Orange County specializing in Toxic Family and the impacts the toxic emotional environment has on its members.

People who grew up in toxic family environments did so under parents who were unstable, unpredictable, neglectful, emotionally immature, irresponsible and/or emotionally violent. Love in these families may appear to exist from the outside looking in, but on the inside the family system functions around a persistent and consistent bleeding away of the self-worth of the children and a conscious and intentional pitting of one family member against another. This type of trauma impacts these people all throughout their development, and they carry this trauma with them into their relationship and work environments as adults. People raised in toxic families tend to over function, become people pleasers, suffer from conflict aversion and tend to be highly sensitive/reactive to every nuance of change in their environment or relationships. They live from a perception of extreme self-doubt and the idea that the price of admission for any relationship must be that they be needless. If anything goes wrong in their world, they immediately assume it must be their fault.

I am the author of two books: But It's Your Family...Cutting Ties with Toxic Family Members and Loving Yourself in the Aftermath (April 2019) and Success Equations: A Path to Living an Emotionally Wealthy Life.

Trauma that is chronic and persistent all throughout childhood makes people less resilient to traumas big and small as they age. For example, kidnap and rape victim Elizabeth Smart came from a loving and supportive family, something worth living for, and she had a confidence and resilience that her captors could not steal from her because she inherently knew her value and right from wrong from the family environment, she was raised in. Had a less resilient person, raised under a toxic family system, been taken by those same captors these people may not have survived and if they had survived, they likely would not have thrived in their life afterward as Elizabeth has been able to do. Elizabeth was horribly victimized, but she doesn't live her life as a victim because her self-worth was intact before her trauma occurred.. She is able to take what happened to her and use it for good.

With chronic or covert trauma where little insults, looks of disgust, small doses of confusion/gaslighting, persistent covert rejections and alienations which are then followed up with doses of intermittent kindness, serve keep the abused person traumatized and hypnotized to be under the control and direction of the toxic family system. The tragic loss of the development of self-worth is very difficult to regain for survivors because they cannot go back to the ages or stages when self-worth was being developed and redo these stages. To heal from chronic and persistent, often covert trauma it takes persistent mindfulness and effort towards healing that can be deeply rewarding. People can learn to live through and past the reactive, scared or nervous person they were raised to be. This healing will often require cutting ties with the toxic family members who harmed them because a person cannot heal in the environment that is poisoning them.

I do agree with Dr. Kate's perception of trauma in that we do carry old traumas with us throughout our lives.

​Karen J. Helfrich, LCSW-C

I work with women who are coping with symptoms of trauma, primarily relational or "little t" trauma. Trained in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and Internal Family Systems Therapy, I educate clients about how the brain and nervous system are impacted by trauma and how this impacts the development of the "self." I focus on empowering clients to de-pathologize their experience and develop healing practices that enable brain change and bring the "self" back into balance. This is a clinical way of saying that I help women feel empowered to effectively make the changes to their feelings and behavior that they want to make instead of remaining stuck and driven by habits ineffective coping habits..

I am in agreement with Dr. Kate's characterization of trauma in it's various forms. Most people are not aware that advances in neurobiology/physiology and trauma are strongly suggesting that many of the concerns that bring people to psychotherapy are actually symptoms of trauma and that we do have effective treatments. The interview touched on DBT as a treatment. I see DBT skills and practices as part of a larger wheel of treatment that needs to include somatic, or body-based, therapy that help clients work where the trauma lives (in the body).

Approaches that work not only with our thoughts, but also felt emotions and body sensations form a more complete picture of treatment. I assume from the name of Kate's practice and her reference to emotion regulation that she does provide this type of treatment for trauma. Among the reasons that it is important to work with thoughts, emotions, and body sensations in psychotherapy is that the brain processes information from thoughts to emotions to body sensations, but also body sensations to emotions to thoughts.

In fact, that body sensation to emotions to thoughts is a much more powerful communication system in the brain than the other way around. This is why traditional talk therapies that focus primarily on thoughts and insight provide limited relief. The brain is also processing hemisphere to hemisphere where the left hemisphere is our "practical mind" and the right is our "emotional mind." Therapies such as EMDR utilize this side-to-side processing to enable the brain to access its organic healing process and metabolize a "stuck" traumatic memory. This was a great interview and it's a really exciting time to be in the mental health field. It is so empowering to be able to provide this truly transformational treatment to clients.

​Chana Studley, Certified Life Coach & Author

I have been a Trauma Counselor for 30 years, I trained with Manchester Rape Crisis back in the early 1980s, I am a World Health Organization Psychotruama First Responder, a Certified Life Coach and a trained volunteer with the Israel Hatzallah Psychotrauma and Crisis Unit here in Jerusalem. Oh, and I have an Academy Award but that's another story.

Dr. Kate is right that what is traumatic to one person is not traumatic to someone else and people who are affected experience it in different ways. But I disagree with her understanding of why. She talks about big T trauma and little T trauma, all experience happens from thought in the moment, even memories are thoughts that have brought a past event to the present. Unlike Dr. Kate, when I'm working with someone it usually comes to me not to ask about the actual event ( unless the client explicitly wants to ) but to explain how human experience works - we are always feeling our thinking and our feelings are a barometer of our thoughts. When we are anxious our thinking speeds up, all kinds of stress hormones are sent into the body and this makes us feel lousy which brings more thought.

If someone's level of consciousness (their awareness of their wellbeing if you like) is high and they understand how this all works they can experience a painful memory, even a flashback and not get overwhelmed by it, they know it's going to pass. But when someone doesn't understand, they will take these thoughts seriously and be dragged down by them.

Dr. Kate seemed very keen on getting into the content of peoples experience and for me, this is a distraction. Understanding how our experience happens is what brings freedom. I recently worked with a client and we talked about these ideas for 2 hours and then the next morning she messaged me to say "Thank you for not asking me about what happened. I have been tortured for 10 years by psychiatrists and therapists, making me retell and retell what happened. I slept really well last night for the first time in years."

I was mugged 3 times ( broken neck, fractured skull, herniated discs ) and I got very sick after because I didn't understand what was happening to me. But eventually I got well, I learned that I was experienced my thoughts about what happened and that enabled me to let go of them and get free, no techniques or methods needed, just understanding.

My favorite quote is from Theosopher Sydney Banks "If only people learned not to be afraid of their own experience, that would change the world."

​Cheryl Albright, OTR/L, RYT-200, C-IAYT

I’m an occupational therapist and have 15 years of experience in a variety of settings including clinics, hospitals, adolescent behavioral health settings, and schools.. I also have an older brother with autism who is nonverbal.

The practices specialize in helping people move and breathe better to improve daily function. This includes trauma and especially with children. When trauma happens in childhood, it impacts the ability for the brain to develop.

I do agree in that everyone reacts very different to trauma. It comes down to how the fight/flight/freeze system is activated. For example, some people are afraid of heights and others are not.

What she did not get into is what that can look like and what it does to the body. The vagal nerve is the longest running cranial nerve and is responsible for rest and digest. This nerve goes to the lungs, pancreas, liver, kidneys, GI tract, and reproductive organs. When this is off line or your in a state of fight or flight, a variety of symptoms can arise that people may not associate with the impact of trauma. This can include but not limited to: sensitive to light due to the pupils being dilated, difficulty breathing, decreased saliva production, picky eating or not at all, decreased taste, spikes in blood sugar, decreased urination or no sensation of the need to urinate, constipation, and/or other GI symptoms. Trauma can have physical effects on the body. And in children, impacts their ability to learn.

They talked briefly about meditation and mindfulness. My yoga teacher says “the breath is the key and the door” and “if you want to work on your mind, work on your breath”. That is the first thing I teach both kids and adults. I had an former adult client come to me the other day and reported she is still doing the breathing exercises and is doing amazing. This is after 3 sessions. Our approach is evidence based and majority of referrals come from psychologists.