Everything I Wish I Knew When Searching For the Right Trauma Coach
HEY! Anybody in there???
I was sitting in a therapist’s office – again – I’m not even sure what year this was, I was maybe in my early 20’s. I had already been in therapy since I was a teenager, to at least four or five different practitioners. This was about 30 years ago, and no one could quite put a finger on what was going on with me... Neither could I. I was struggling with my sense of self, my lack of self-worth, my inability to communicate how angry and broken I was… But none of that had really come to the surface yet. Back then, there was little talk of such things. I just knew I was pretty lost.
The details of that session have vanished with time, but I do remember having this lightbulb go off in my young mind, as I looked across at my therapist. I don't think I had seen her for very long. But on this day, I vividly recall her perfect suit and matching heels. Her over-sprayed hairdo. The myriad of certificates and degrees on her wall - and the blank look in her eyes.
I saw no hint of emotion, or recognition or compassion. And I thought to myself, you have no bloody idea what I'm talking about, do you... it was like so many of my interactions back then – shrieking into the void and getting back Nothing – The Blank Stare – you may know the one I mean....
Pretty sure I ended our sessions that day.
Like most trauma survivors, I had been dismissed and disbelieved for many years. Not to say that I didn't have support (if I hadn't, I wouldn't still be here), but for the most part I was barely scrambling through trying to make sense of myself. I desperately clung to the folks who did listen, who did guide me and boost me up. Because it was clear that I desperately needed that. But no therapeutic intervention was yet to offer the insight and tools that I needed to really understand and grow beyond my trauma.
This was before there was a self-help section in the bookstore. This was before it was common, in at least some places, to talk about abuse or neglect at home.
Looking back on it now, it feels like it was such a wasteland, without empathy or understanding. Counselors were taught to be neutral, to not talk about themselves and certainly not to touch or comfort their clients.
But connection is so crucial - and the quality of that connection can make the difference between staying stuck and finding our way out of our suffering and shame.
I see so many folks have the same challenges - so I hope I can break this process down for you, so you don’t have to take as long as I did to find the right counsel.
In over 15 years in practice and 35+ years on my own healing journey, here are the crucial things to look for when you are choosing who you want to work with in your Grief & Trauma Healing.
1. Background: Degrees are not the only qualification
Training is an important piece of this puzzle – you do want a professional, you do want someone who takes this practice seriously and understands the responsibility of working with Trauma Survivors, who have already been let down so much in their lives. Folks can be raw and fragile, angry and vulnerable. And can often be susceptible to trusting the wrong people in authority.
BUT that does not mean that someone who has the “right” degrees is the right person to work with. A solid psych background is essential – but even PhD’s may not have a specific background in trauma. But it is also the case in general that having a degree and being good at your job are two vastly different things... And this is true of every profession. I hear from clients all the time that they haven't found the right fit, they don't feel that their counselor listens to them, and that they aren't getting any better or learning anything.
So it is important to keep an open mind, and keep looking, to find someone with whom you are comfortable, and that may not be the person with all sorts of spaghetti after their name.
2. Communication Style & Safety: Are they asking or talking? Do you feel heard? Do you feel safe?
It is paramount that you feel as though your coach or counselor truly and deeply listens. Anyone to whom you turn for help in any arena needs to listen to your needs. But in Grief & Trauma in particular, folks have often been rejected, blamed, targeted, and bullied for years – often by the people closest to them. So asking them to open up is not a small thing.
When traumatic events happen, our sense of safety can become terribly fractured. It can feel like a war zone in your mind and spirit and knowing whom to trust after that can be frightening. So look for someone who puts you at ease and works at earning your trust. It is not a given from the moment you walk in the door.
3. Information Gathering: Do they seem curious and not judgmental? Do they take the time to learn ALL about you?
It takes much more than just learning about your problem or issue. You are a whole person, and the more that they learn about what makes you tick and what makes you hurt, the better they will be able to craft a healing journey that really works for you.
What do you enjoy? How well do you take care of your health? Do you get along with animals? What authors inspire you? What has worked or not worked in the past? What songs uplift you? These are not pieces of trivia, they are minute but powerful clues to your being, your feeling and your thinking.
Beware of 50-cent cures and Quick Fixes – True Healing takes Time & Effort. Someone who claims to have an answer to all your problems within the first few hours only wants to show off how much they know. That's about them, not about you.
Finally, again, most survivors have been judged and stigmatized many many times – it is essential that a counselor not add to that weight.
4. Healing Process: Do they have tools that actually fit what you need? Do they work?
Grief & Trauma Healing takes active, steady and persistent effort. Most of it goes on in the delicate dance between your mind, body and emotions – where the memories and demons have already made a nest. Dislodging those old thought patterns, behaviors and bringing joy and ease back into your life means you need tools to help you and there are literally hundreds of them. Just talking about your feelings is not enough….
These pathways are complex and very individual. It cannot be a One Size Fits All situation, since so much depends on your way of thinking and learning, your history with other modalities, your belief system…SO much more.
Between sessions, you are alone with your thoughts – so we need things in place to help shift you into new ideas and create calm and healing. Don’t be afraid to ask your therapist/coach/healer for active things that you can weave into your personal healing journey.
5. Authenticity: Are they a survivor themselves? Are they open about their own healing journey?
This is HUGE – feeling heard and understood is almost priceless. That feeling of talking to someone and knowing they get you! They have walked where you are and come out the other side.
Most of us have walked alone for a long time before we find the right help. Fighting to be believed, trying not to give up, very confused and frightened to find ourselves on this road. Hope and connection and empathy and camaraderie with healthy boundaries can be the Make or Break of our healing journey.
Many folks search for years (expensive years) to discover the right practitioner with whom we can work, whom we can trust, who listens without judgement, who lifts you up and gives you tools to find your way back into the light. If you haven’t found the right equation yet, don’t despair! Keep searching – it’s worth it. This is your LIFE – don’t let the Grief & Trauma write one more minute of it for you. Take the pen back – and write the next chapter.