I attended an amazing luncheon with OCCAMFT (Orange County California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists) today. I am in my journey as a prelicensed therapist, and along with all therapists, welcome growth, new perspectives and insights into the art of healing. Sometimes this information comes in the form of reading, self discovery, or workshops. The goal is to continually learn, and to continually shape this craft that is a lifelong endeavor.
Our speaker was Gina Tabrizy, MS, LMFT, and she was described as a dynamo and brilliant clinician. I agree. Her authenticity radiated throughout the talk, and there are some things I took home to share with you. Her work with addiction and professional healing for the past 27 years spoke to me. Talking about trauma is never easy, but it is necessary as a human being. It can be an uncomfortable place for therapists themselves, and I welcome the open discussion to practice self care while being present with a client's trauma.
Here are some treats I took with me:
Trauma happens when we experience "anything less than nurturing." Pia Mellody
What does this mean, exactly? Sometimes the term trauma is associated with major life events, like witnessing death or violence, accidents, or things that threaten a person's sense of safety. Other times, it can be accumulations of small, yet important things, that chip away at a person (microaggressions), or witnessing others' trauma.
The trauma may not have happened directly to you, and yet, you feel the pain in your body. You feel the discomfort, and you feel the churning in your stomach. This may be attributed to having loved ones who've experienced trauma, or being a professional healer working with clients and their trauma.
Your life may seem perfect, or seem like there were no traumas, but according to Mellody, merely having one's basic needs met is not enough. We need connection, we need intangible things to feel loved and wanted. Sometimes we are not offered these intangible things growing up, and this can also cause trauma. Something was missing. A therapist may explore these circumstances to rule out trauma.
"Unprocessed trauma is a great trigger for relapse." Gina Tabrizy, MS, LMFT
I relapsed with gaming in my 20s. There were unaddressed traumas and wounds to heal. I agree with Tabrizy and her insights to pair addictions with trauma. It is an attempt to numb the pain, and to find some way to cope in this chaotic world. Repetitions and compulsions to occupy our minds and bodies--addicts will do this to avoid pain, and I empathize with this wretched process. It is not fair, and it is not easy. It feels like hell; it feels like a shameful prison.
So, as clinicians, it is important for us to explore things that may appear like depression, anxiety, or addiction. There may be underlying trauma, and therapists must check in with our own internal processes. It is our duty to do no harm in practice. When a client has a trauma that might trigger some issues with a therapist, it can be part of the process to refer out while working on these issues, and then working together after. Therapists came into the field for their own reasons, and some of those reasons may be because we've worked through similar things. If a client's story is too close to home, a therapist may refer out to ensure the best care for their client. Referring out does not mean a therapist isn't competent. It may mean that they honor a client's experiences, and at the time, may not be a best match because of very human things a therapist needs to work on.
A therapist's duty is to do no harm. We took an oath to serve our communities, and sometimes the best way to do no harm is to refer to another therapist.
Trauma teaches us to be comfortable with pain. Love is uncomfortable.
There are so many of us willing to be loved in a way that we wouldn't allow our closest friends to endure. Yet, we do. We believe we are unworthy of anything better, and when goodness enters our lives, we find a way to sabotage, push it away, or isolate ourselves. It's a difficult cycle to get out of. Our earliest models of love tend to affect our relationship choices, yet it's not something we're aware of. It just happens.
What do some of us do instead of embrace love? We find something else to fill the emptiness, something to numb the pain. Some of us become addicts, and the behaviors or substances can range from shopping, work, fishing, gaming, drugs, sex, to working out, binge eating, or restricting (there are more). The addictions worsen when there seems to be no way out. Relapse can occur when uncomfortable emotions or things related to traumas surface.
What Can Be Done When You've Experienced Trauma/Addiction and are Ready for Therapy
- Find a therapist who is trained in EMDR, or a therapist who can work with another EMDR therapist conjointly.
- Connect with a therapist who practices some type of movement or artistic interventions (psychodrama, expressive arts...) and is trained to work with trauma.
- Honor your trauma by acknowledging its impact on your life. A therapist can help you sort through this.
- Give yourself permission to shop around for a good-fit therapist. It is an intimate professional relationship, and will take time to unravel the layers of your trauma towards healing.
- Forgive yourself for relapsing. It is a very human thing to do. The want to numb is powerful.
- Give yourself permission to speak on your trauma when you feel safe to do so. Do not feel rushed to please any therapist.
- If there is current substance abuse, outpatient treatment or detox may be an essential first step in healing.
- Slowly believe that reaching out for help is a sign of strength, and that you are worthy of a good life. You are worthy of love. A therapist can also help with this.
Gina Tabrizy, MS, LMFT is the executive clinical director at Harmony Heals, a holistic counseling center in Laguna Hills, CA. They offer treatment for individuals, couples, family, groups, and customized IOP related to recovery, trauma, addictions, and mental health. Their contact is (949)837-2751 or (877)HELP115 | firstname.lastname@example.org