3 March 2014

Is counselling necessary for trauma? - A pussycat analogy

By Amanda Williamson Reg MBACP (Accred)

I have a very clear idea about what I believe are the answers to these important questions and I think that by sharing my thoughts you can get a little idea of the kind of counsellor I am and how I work.

Would everybody find some benefit in counselling?

No, I do not think so. The very idea of counselling is abhorrent to some so how would it possibly benefit them? I know counsellors, and people who have had counselling, who say that everyone should do it because it has been so helpful for them.  I get this, as having personal counselling was very effective and powerful for me, so much so that I decided to train in it. However, it is my belief that it is only helpful to those that believe that it might be helpful for them. It is certainly not for everybody. Some people really have no reward in talking to a stranger about their innermost thoughts and feelings. Some find it hugely helpful. There is no right or wrong here, just different ways of being in the world.

Do we have to talk about our traumas to be able to move on from them?

Hmmm. This is quite a contentious issue. Somebody might have an awareness of a traumatic incident such as abuse. Is it helpful for that person to go over it in therapy? Possibly... to a point. But it depends...

Looking at trauma work, and post-traumatic stress recovery, it is understood that talking about a traumatic incident and simultaneously expressing the associated emotions can help the brain relegate the event to the past. Until this stage, of the trauma being 'processed', the brain flags the incident as 'current threat' and the trauma can infiltrate the here and now through flashbacks and extreme anxiety (a great book for this topic is Babette Rothschild's The Body Remembers). So in these circumstances it may well indeed be in a client's best interest to explore the traumatic event within a therapeutic relationship to facilitate the processing, if there are signs that the trauma is affecting the here and now AND, and this is most important, the client believes that it might be helpful for them.

However, traumatic incidents do not always wreak havoc with people's lives. Is it always essential to poke around in the past and reopen old wounds?

I did have a therapist once try to dredge up some old alleged trauma that he believed I had encountered. This was highly annoying because the fact was, I had no recollection of said trauma, and in fact, was not exhibiting any symptoms of PTSD. What he might in fact have been doing is a very dodgy thing referred to in therapy as false memory syndrome. This is very dangerous territory and one of the reasons I believe that therapy should be regulated. Unfortunately there are some therapists out there that believe that they know better than their clients and highjack the therapeutic space with their own agendas. This I believe is akin to the gay-conversion therapy that has been in the press recently, and, quite rightly, is not tolerated by the vast majority of therapists.

So what about the pussycats?

Well, once I had two cats from the same litter, a boy and a girl. The male was robust and the female was the runt - slightly frail, undersized, poor sense of balance and prone to infection.

When the cats were approximately 8 years old, I noticed that Leo, the male, had some sort of injury, There was a wound on his back and he was clearly in pain. I took him to the vets and was told that it appeared he had been shot by an air-rifle in the back. The vet suspected that it was quite some time ago, and that the bullet was working it's way out. Later that night, I inspected his sister, Lili, and found that she had a lump in her back. I wasn't quite sure how I had not noticed it before, but it felt like an air-rifle pellet under her skin.

I took them both back to the vets. Leo was not responding to the antibiotics and the wound was getting worse. The vet said that the best thing would be for him to have it surgically removed. She inspected Lili and said that she was certain that it really was quite a long time ago that both of the cats had been shot. Lili's pellet was causing her no problems whatsoever, and the safest thing to do would be to leave it alone. Leo's body however, was struggling and causing a bit of a mess trying to purge itself of the pellet.

And so, it is my belief that some people suffer trauma with self-limiting effects, and others are affected more profoundly. It just depends. As it happens, with the pussycats, it was the robust one that suffered the most with this particular trauma. It just goes to show that you can't necessarily predict who will struggle more.

1 comment:

Hazel Hill said...

I agree counselling is not for everybody and I am always wary of anyone that is sent to me rather than clients who choose to come. I agree about past trauma. Clients often know if it is affecting them or not. We need to respect the client wishes and also know our own boundaries.

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