Many people get frozen by trauma. It reappears in various ways and often is re-lived over and over again in dreams. Individuals often carry around the memories and are triggered to respond as they did years ago. War veterans know this when jumping at the sound of a popping tire as if it is gunfire. Women and children tortured by captors may avoid contact with others due to fears of past interactions.
An alternative to replaying the trauma as it is remembered is to literally re-story it. So often after a traumatic event, the anxiety that arises is of being a victim again. Yet, as I have journeyed with many of my clients, we find a new story to remember. Those who survive trauma have a story of strength to share. I explore with my counseling clients how they tapped inner and outer resources to endure difficult times.
In addition, I use what is called in Applied Existential Psychotherapy (AEP) ‘empty chair’ work. My clients transfer the anxiety-producing voices in their head to an empty chair. With a bit of separation from the old voices, clients explore new ways to tell their story. They speak with the lens of an open heart. As Betty Cannon describes in her book, Sartre & Psychoanalysis: An Existentialist Challenge to Clinical Metatheory “Sartre attempts to discover the ontological structures of human existence which manifest themselves in experience, whereas Freud attempts to discover the metabiological forces which lie behind human experience.” Using an AEP approach combined with some Japanese psychology, I help my clients make conscious choices about living life fully.
Clients gain an understanding of how it is unnecessary to replay what happened or let others tell them how to live. They begin to see teachings from their trauma, anxiety, and fears. Aha moments happen as they explore living as a survivor instead of as a victim. Practicing a compassionate view of self and others, it is possible to make wise choices in difficult situations. As many of my clients have concluded, sometimes the wise choice is not to fight, but wait for the opportunity to escape.
A critical lesson for many was the awareness of not being their trauma or dis-ease. Together we tested tools that allowed them to transform their trauma into a reservoir of lessons learned. Discarding the voices of judgment and blame, a new view was possible. With new perspectives, they walked out into the world again with the strength to live life embracing the full range of the human experience.
Carol O’Dowd, MPA, MDIV, MI, RP
Prajna Healing Arts