Finding a Trauma Competent Counselor
FINDING A TRAUMA COMPETENT COUNSELOR
Lisa Keane, Clinical Director Marriage and Family | MAMFC, LPC-S, NCC, Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor
The month of April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month. It is important to state that abuse is never the fault of the victim. Never. However, victims find that fact very difficult to accept or believe, and often feel shame or guilt associated with the abuse. That can especially be true for those who were abused by someone whom they trusted or had status or power over them.
There are several types of child abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and mental injury or emotional abuse. Child abuse crosses all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, and male and female children are equally at risk. Over the course of my career, I have seen people with histories of childhood abuse heal from their traumas, make sense of the impact it has had on their life, and find peace with their past.
When someone is struggling to come to grips with an abuse history, which can be hard to sort out, it is very difficult for them to understand the gravity of all that has happened and see all the far-reaching implications of that abuse in their life. In addition, if a person feels they need to come forward to report their abuse, it takes a great amount of energy and courage to do so. To say out loud that you were hurt by someone in your past or present can be very difficult, yet very empowering.
But, regardless if a person comes forward publicly or chooses to deal with the abuse privately, they need to find the best possible mental health care to fully process the entire abuse situation. After any major childhood trauma, we can see long-term affects to the brain, physiological changes, struggles in future relationships, and other impacts to daily functioning. For these reasons, finding a counselor who understands all these things can be a daunting task and can feel overwhelming.
FINDING THE RIGHT THERAPIST
I would like to offer some simple guidelines of what to look for in a therapist, should you or someone you know need help finding the best therapist for trauma processing and recovery.
1. Licensed professional. When you seek counseling from someone who is licensed, you will know they have had to meet certain educational and experiential criteria for licensure. You will also know they are bound by a code of ethics and must follow the health care laws of your state.
2. Someone who understands trauma and its long-term affects on the brain. Trauma is not just a one-time event that happens to us and never impacts us again. There are multiple studies that show trauma has long-term, lasting implications on our lives. You need to find a counselor who understands these impacts and is willing to help you understand how the trauma has affected you. If you would like to read more about how trauma affects your life, start with the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/)
3. A therapist who can tailor techniques, interventions, and modalities that best meet your needs. Therapy should not have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. You want a therapist who is willing to sit down and listen to your perspective and what you need. They will then use that information to formulate a treatment plan tailored to you. You will want to ask if that therapist is trained in trauma-informed modalities and ask if they have experience helping people heal from your specific type of trauma. Narrative Therapy, where a person works to tell their story while integrating different sensory experiences from the trauma, has very promising results. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is also a top choice for treating childhood trauma. In this type of therapy, the client is processing the trauma while also using eye movements similar to REM sleep to help the brain to find safe ways to process the trauma.
4. An open therapist who is willing to answer your questions. Therapy is a service that you need to feel comfortable with. I often explain that finding the right therapist for you can feel like dating. You need to feel the freedom to interview your therapist and “break-up” when you don’t feel it is the right fit for you. Therapy is very personal and requires that you fully trust your therapist and feel comfortable with them in order to gain the greatest benefit from therapy.
5. A therapist who will integrate your Christian faith into counseling. Not all Christian counselors are the same. Be willing to have conversations with them asking how they integrate faith, spirituality, and psychology into their work. As you grapple with how the trauma has impacted your life, you will likely also need someone who can help you understand how it has impacted your faith.
To find out more about finding a trauma competent counselor, read this in-depth article from The American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/ed/resources/trauma-competencies-training.pdf
This feature was originally written for and published in The Alabama Baptist newspaper and has been edited for our blog.