Over the past decade, our awareness and understanding of trauma has moved into mainstream.
George Miller (1969), former president of the American Psychological Association believed,
“…our responsibility is less to assume the role of experts and try to apply psychology ourselves than to give it away to the people who really need it.”
He hoped making psychology accessible to the public and giving people a deeper understanding of human thought and behaviour would help in solving the world’s problems created by humanity.
Today, trauma has become a topic for blogs, TV shows, Tik Tok & instagram posts, podcasts, movies, books just to name a few and it has revolutionised mental health. The trauma informed field is growing quickly and as a result our world is changing.
Awareness of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) along with developmental trauma and the long term impacts of relational trauma are crucial for our healing and growth.
The human experience is complex and nuanced. Psychology has heavily focused on cognitive and behavioural models, which are important and have a role to play, at the same time they can keep us busy with symptoms and diagnoses instead of recognising root causes. These medical and disease models can, unintentionally, further dehumanise people who are already suffering. We are so much more than our symptoms and behaviours.
Let’s not forget the word psychology comes from the Greek word ‘psyche’ which means Soul. In this sense, post traumatic healing means working with the whole Self, not just working with our identity but connecting with a sense of wholeness and aliveness to our spiritual nature. Soul work is an invitation to listen, with curiosity and compassion, to the voice of our intuition. To turn our attention inward, connecting with a deep sense of meaning and purpose that lives within us.
When we have a history of trauma it is vital we work with psychological interventions to reduce or eliminate distress. A useful but flawed metaphor is to imagine a scale that runs from minus 10 representing illness, to zero where there is an absence of issues, to plus 10 representing wellness. Psychology focuses on moving people from the negative scale to zero, freedom from distress and disorder. However the absence of these issues isn’t the same as living a full life and flourishing, it simply means the absence of pain. We need to find ways to live beyond ‘zero’, to move into the positive numbers where meaning and purpose reside.
(Photo credit: Dr Markus Ebner Positive Leadership article on LinkedIn)
Ideally, post traumatic healing will be grounded in psychological theory while at the same time be aware of the very real limitations that exist within this framework for understanding the human experience. Focusing exclusively on what is wrong and dealing with the deficits does not do justice to the richness and potential that exists within us.
We need to find ways to create experiences that fill us with joy, connection, contentment and give us reason to look forward to each day and imagine a future for ourselves filled with love and happiness.
Post traumatic healing lives in a place where psychology and spirituality meet. The intersection between mind, body and soul. A place where we can experience, in a deep way, how empirical studies of science and our inner subjective sense of meaning and connection can be brought together so that all of our actions, relationships and choices are aligned with our authentic Self.
As a psychologist and therapist, this means staying up to date with relevant psychological research, appreciating theories outside of psychology and learning from the wisdom and healing practices of different cultural, religious and spiritual traditions.
Healing from trauma is about transforming the Self. Trauma can cause a disconnect from our body and ourselves causing confusion around what we think, feel and how we behave. The journey home is both psychological and spiritual.
It is a return to living authentically, creating a space where our values and purpose align, because anything less is harmful to our physical and mental health.