Often when we think about trauma we think about the act of abuse itself and treating its immediate aftermath – prioritising physical safety and health, but what about long term wellbeing?
We know that the women and children who come to us experience trauma in many different ways. One such manifestation is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD as it is commonly known. This can involve a wide variety of symptoms such as re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares, emotional numbing and avoidance, and physical pains, hyperarousal or even panic attacks.
What is sometimes confusing is that the experience of trauma does not neatly fit into one box of symptoms or appearances.
Sara, one survivor we have worked with had suffered years of sexual abuse as a child. Her way of coping meant she had blocked much of her emotions and was appearing to function well to anyone on the outside. It took one incident of sexual harassment in the workplace for her to be triggered by the trauma of her past, and driving her to desperately contact us for help.
There is no one size fits all model, this is why it’s so important we have a variety of therapies to suit each survivor who approaches us. We provided Sara with an initial course of art therapy, a safe and contained space for her to explore her feelings and her understanding of her experiences of abuse when she didn’t have the space to talk freely about her emotions. She painted and sculpted freely, guided by a trained art therapist to explore and express herself.
When Sara was ready, she transitioned to one-to-one counselling where she was able to verbally express what had happened for the first time. When she speaks about the experience of counselling she says:
‘It saved my life. Without Solace, I would not be here today. I wouldn’t be as happy as I am today. What’s amazing is that it was free, I could never have afforded this level of care otherwise, and I dread to think about the women who need this support and cannot access it. I was lucky.’
Her counsellor looked at not just the issues at hand but also worked to help Sara understand constructs of patriarchy, gender-based violence and its global epidemic. She began to heal once she understood it was not her fault.
We also know that trauma resides not just in the mind but in the body.There’s often an assumption that the two are separate entities, but their connection and the understanding of it is essential to healing. We offer body therapies such as trauma informed yoga and TRE ‘tension release exercises’ that look to release emotion through mindfulness and physical movement combined.
It has long been our approach that healing must be holistic and that it is an ongoing journey. It is not appropriate or realistic to look at therapies as a Band-Aid ‘you’re fixed now’ course of treatment, because they are built to equip a person with tools for long-term healing and self-care. This may not be the quantifiable, results oriented approach that so often attracts funding but perhaps we need to re-evaluate how therapies are prioritised as a service given their high demand both within the NHS and in services such as our own. It will certainly save lives, but it will also improve lives, and isn’t that what we should be aiming for?