TLC Guest Blogger: Annette Miner, CWY, CTC-S, CYC
“You want to relate to trauma as an experience, not as a diagnostic category.” – Dr. William Steele
“Trauma is not in the event, but in the experience of the event. It is not the understanding of trauma that heals, but the addressing of the experience of the trauma that heals.” – David Grill, MFT
“Trauma is not in the event itself. Rather, trauma resides in the nervous system.” – Peter A. Levine
This year’s theme for the TLC Trauma Practitioner’s Assembly is “Experience Matters.” This is a very fitting theme since it encapsulates the whole principle behind sensory trauma intervention. The traumatic situation should not be the primary focus when providing trauma intervention. Instead, focus on how the child perceives he or she experienced the event. Using the exact intervention technique is not what brings the most healing. It is the experience of the intervention and trauma specialist.
Child’s Experience of Trauma
Not every child that is exposed to a potentially trauma-inducing situation will be traumatized. In fact, two children can be exposed to the same traumatic event, resulting with one child being traumatized while the other is not. A potentially trauma-inducing situation is only traumatic if the child’s experience is one of terror, feeling totally unsafe and powerless to do anything about the situation they found themselves in (freeze). Furthermore, two children exposed to the same potentially trauma-inducing event may both be traumatized, yet their traumatic experience of the event is different. It all depends on how the child experienced that traumatic exposure from a sensory perspective. Again, it is not the event that is the trauma, but it is the experience of that event.
Experience of the Intervention
There is not one trauma intervention that fits every child. Trauma intervention is to be personalized to fit the needs of each child. We know that every traumatized child comes into our offices with an underlying emotion of terror being experienced at a sensory level. It is, therefore, imperative that the trauma specialist provide safety at a sensory level during each session in order for the trauma intervention to be effective. Each session must begin and end in a “safe place” for the child, with the middle portion of the session addressing the trauma themes while empowering the child. When safety is felt at a sensory level, the traumatized child can truly begin to share the fuller experience of his trauma, making the trauma specialist a witness to what he or she experienced. Only when a trauma specialist can see the trauma situation through the child’s sensory experience can he or she integrate the most effective sensory and cognitive components of the intervention in order to promote the most healing.
In 2004, I attended my first Childhood Trauma Practitioner’s Assembly. Back then, sensory intervention was a new concept to me, one that would eventually enhance all that I do in my practice. This year will be my eighth year of attendance at the Assembly. I look forward each year to all four days of training. It is a great time to refresh what I already know, learn new strategies and techniques, as well as network with colleagues.
If you have not yet attended a Childhood Trauma Practitioner’s Assembly, I encourage you to come out and join us this summer! For those of you who are returning, I look forward to getting together and chatting with you once again!