Written by: Kaycee Beglau, PsyD
Beginning therapy for the first time or with a new therapist can be a scary, terrifying situation. This can be true for anyone, but especially for people who have experienced any kind of abuse or trauma. There may be a part of you that acknowledges you need help, but another part (or parts) of you that are afraid to seek help or believe that it is pointless. Having the ability to trust another person with these deepest, darkest aspects of yourself or your history may seem impossible. Still, it may be terrifying to even think about talking about the trauma or abuse, and you may believe this is what will be required of you in order to be in therapy. Additionally, many people with trauma or abuse histories have, unfortunately, had bad or traumatizing experiences with therapists or other mental health professionals. Of course, if this has happened to you, it understandably makes it even more difficult and scary to make the decision to try therapy again.
These are just a few of the things that can make it difficult and scary to seek help from a therapist. Still, therapy has the potential to offer a healing relationship, increased stability, and hope for the future. Although it may feel like a risk, seeking help from a healthcare professional is a healthy risk.
Here are 5 steps you can take to make finding a new therapist a little less scary.
1. Do Your Research
Chances are, if you are reading this post, you are really good at finding information on the internet. Many people find their therapists online, and are used to reading therapist profiles, websites, blog posts, etc. While this is a great place to start, it doesn’t have to stop there. Feel free to look up the school and program where the therapist graduated from and any trainings attended. If a therapist reports using a specific therapeutic approach or technique that you are not familiar with, take the time to look into it. Make sure it looks like the therapist’s background, training, and approach are consistent with your thoughts and the direction you want to go in therapy. Although this does not ensure a good fit, it can help give you some peace of mind, knowing as much as possible about the potential new therapist.
For people with a history of severe or prolonged childhood abuse, dissociative symptoms, and/or self-injurious or suicidal thoughts/feelings, I highly recommend finding someone who specializes in these problems.
2. Ask for an Initial Consultation
Many people do not realize you can “therapist shop” or meet with multiple therapists to interview them before actually starting therapy. This can help take some of the pressure off and give you some space to get a sense of what might be the most helpful for you and to reflect on your feelings without feeling “trapped” or “obligated” to return. Therapy works best when there is a good fit between the therapist and the client. There is no point in trying to force a good fit, when there is likely a better fit out there.
As a psychologist, if I am aware someone is interested in interviewing me prior to beginning therapy, I often offer a free initial consultation. It is perfectly ok to ask for this option when making the initial contact with a potential new therapist.
3. Listen to Yourself
We often have a little voice inside or a feeling telling us information about what we may need. If you are like me, it is sometimes difficult to trust that voice or that feeling. It is much easier to minimize that, brush it off, or even criticize it. But actually, there is a lot of wisdom in what these experiences tell us and it’s important to not only listen to that, but to also trust it. If there is a part of you saying you don’t want to see a particular kind of therapist or participate in a particular kind of therapy, honor that part of you and try to find a therapist that does not contradict what that important part of you is saying. Also, try not to “should” yourself, (i.e., I should see a male therapist because that will help me get over my past), or follow someone else’s advice at your own expense. Listening deep down and following your own instincts or intuition will help you feel more in control of this process.
4. Ask Questions
You absolutely have the right to interview or question your therapist. It is important you have the opportunity to understand the therapist’s education, level of training, and background. You can ask how many of years of experience he or she has in treating a particular problem or using a particular approach. Questions regarding the therapist’s philosophy or approach to therapy, boundaries, and ways he or she would handle particular problems are completely appropriate. If you struggle with things like self-injury or suicidality, definitely ask up front for the policies and procedures for making crisis calls during times of emergencies. If something is bothering you, making you afraid, or if you have specific needs, ask, ask, ask.
5. Go slow and take control
Therapy is for you, and it is beyond important that you feel as safe and comfortable as possible. I strongly believe that your history belongs to you and you should be in complete control over how and when you share this information, if you chose. As a trauma therapist, I do not believe I need to know the details of anyone’s trauma history at the onset of therapy in order to help them. Although I believe having this information is helpful and being able to tell one’s story is an important part of the therapeutic process, I think it is more important for the person to be in complete control of what information is shared and when. It’s ok to take your time, and you can decide when it feels safe to start talking about your trauma or abuse history.
You do not have to feel pressured by a therapist to talk about it before you are ready and its ok to say you do not want to talk about it. Therapy can focus on managing and coping with trauma symptoms, promoting safety and stabilization, improving quality of life, and building a solid therapeutic relationship without the demand to talk about trauma or abuse details.
Written by: Kaycee Beglau, PsyD
Understanding and Defining Different Types of Trauma
These days it seems there is a misconception, or even a “watering down” of what the word trauma actually means. In everyday conversations, the word “traumatic” can be used in the same way as words like “stressful” or “upsetting.” For example, we have all seen the dramatized, reality tv-show star say something to the effect of, “Finding out my wrinkle cream has been discontinued has been really traumatic for me.” But, if you have lived through a traumatic experience, you know on a deep level that trauma and stress are not the same thing.
On the other hand, when most people think about trauma, they often think about those who have survived a natural disaster, been physically or sexually assaulted, or been exposed to war or combat. Understandably, these kinds of experiences can be extremely traumatic for a lot of people who go through them. However, a person does not have to have undergone an experience as obviously profound as these for it to cause a traumatic reaction or response.
Some trauma experts like to distinguish between “big-T” traumas and “little-t” traumas. Big-T traumas are what most people typically think of, as I just described. They create a terrifying sense of being completely overwhelmed, are often sudden, and leave the person’s life or sense of well-being feeling physically threatened.
Examples of “Big-T traumas”
Little-t traumas, on the other hand, may not be life threatening or as horrifying or terrifying as the typical list of qualifying traumatic events. Nevertheless, many kinds of events or experiences can be traumatic even if there was no threat of physical injury or death. These types of traumas include experiences that threatened the person’s sense of psychological integrity or well-being.
Examples of “little-t” traumas
Of course, neither of these lists are exhaustive and represent only a small fraction of life events or experiences that a person can experience as being potentially traumatic. Big-T traumas, by nature, are very severe. Yet, it also makes sense to me that these less obvious forms of trauma (i.e., little-t traumas) can have a profoundly traumatizing effect on people and can create many of the same post-traumatic responses as the Big-T traumas. This becomes more and more true with experiences that are chronic, repetitive, or having survived multiple types of traumas, as this tends to have a “cumulative” traumatizing effect.
Even if what you have experienced has not been mentioned in this blog, it does not mean you have not suffered a trauma or that what you have experienced did not result in post-traumatic reactions. What these different types of trauma have in common is the lasting impact they can have on people, which includes experiences such as being emotionally, physically, and mentally overwhelmed and feeling shocked, horrified, helpless, damaged, or fractured in some deeply profound way.
The important thing is not to focus on what type(s) of trauma(s) you have survived and to try to quantify it in some way, but to recognize the ways you have been affected and what all of this means to you. There is hope for recovery, and it begins with recognizing and coming to terms with what has occurred and the many ways it has impacted your sense of self, your experience of the world, your perspectives, your ability to connect with others, and to engage in a quality of life that feels personally meaningful.
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