Eric Evans

Registered Psychotherapist

Toronto Psychotherapist working with depression, anxiety, serious illness, creativity, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer issues.

Trauma by any other name

Within the profession of psychotherapy, there are always lenses through which we look to understand our clients. In previous generations it was neurosis, for instance. In the case of psychological trauma, as we now call it, there was battle fatigue in the past, since it was in the context of war that the effects of which were organized into a syndrome that we now call trauma, since those effects come about in more than just combat, domestic violence and abuse being the most obvious example. 

Now we have identified developmental trauma as well, a syndrome of long-term, relational dysfunction and dysregulation that distinguishes it from trauma that is caused by particular events. In other words it can be seen to be a whole period of disorder as opposed to specific traumatic moments. 

It is important that we call this trauma, and useful for clinicians, as it can allow the person seeking treatment to take seriously the detrimental effects of their upbringing, and it provides a useful construct for the clinician to use when thinking about that client. 

But it gets complicated and murky rather quickly and I think sometimes psychotherapists forget that. The most obvious truth is that what is traumatic for one person may not be for another. We all deal with and move on from what happens to us in our lives differently. We all have different capacities for resilience, different vulnerabilities. It is tricky for a psychotherapist to confidently say that a particular situation was traumatic for someone. This does not mean that a situation does not effect someone, but to call it traumatic might be too limiting, in the same way that not calling it traumatic might be to miss something important. 

Psychotherapy, at least in this context, if not all, needs to be collaborative. If the word trauma is going to be used and the understanding behind it a part of how the therapist works, the client must also have the same understanding. 

But the concept of psychological trauma has brought our culture, I think it's safe to say, to an awareness that life presents us with challenges that are sometimes, for some people, too much to bear and human beings, in our amazing ways of coping, have adapted strategies to deal with them that can ultimately be crippling once the traumatic event has passed.