Become Trauma Informed with Choice Theory:
'The core belief in having to be strong enough, characteristic of many people who develop chronic illness, is a defence. The child who perceives that her parents cannot support her emotionally had better develop an attitude of 'I can handle everything myself'. Otherwise, she may feel rejected. One way not to feel rejected is to never ask for help, never admit 'weakness' - to believe that I am strong enough to withstand all my vicissitudes alone'.
The above quote is from When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress by Dr Gabor Mate. It was shared this week on Twitter by Tigers (@TIGERS_UK), the Scottish based training provider who are a key part of the movement to increase awareness of the impact of trauma on all of us and to provide information and teach skills to enable us to work and live with this new understanding at the heart of everything we do. Along with the Dundee based Connected Baby (@connectedbaby) they led on the organisation of the seminal 'Ace Aware Nation' (@AceAwareNation) conference in Glasgow last year which they are following up with an event this year on June 11th at the Royal Concert Hall in the same city which features contributions from across the justice, health, education and care sectors as well as from award winning author of Poverty Safari - Darren McGarvey, along with Mate. Thanks to this movement, information about the impact of the stress caused by the trauma of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) is gradually becoming more widely available for all of us.
Learning about the impact of stress resulting from trauma or 'becoming trauma informed' simply transforms our understanding of ourselves and has the potential to improve all of the relationships that we are in, whether that be our relationships in our personal lives or those that we have in work or in school or other educational environments or indeed any other setting. For people that work in some professions, such as support work, childcare, teaching, policing or social work to name a few - becoming trauma informed is absolutely essential. In some other professions, it is only essential! Awareness of the impact of trauma on human beings, both in the short and longer term, can literally be life saving, whatever we do. This of course extends to all settings that we find ourselves in on a day to day basis from home to the sports centre or bus stop or street or shops.
The term 'trauma informed' or anything involving the word trauma can naturally invoke feelings of nervousness or fear. It is understandable for someone with little or no conscious knowledge of the term to ask questions such as 'what do I know about something as complicated as that' or to remark that 'I am not qualified to understand let alone help someone who may have experienced trauma'. These are indeed valid concerns to have. However, even the most complicated things in life - such as human psychology and physiology - can be learned about and understood enough by any of us to the extent that we are able to take care of ourselves more effectively and make a difference with others when it really matters.
For some of us, working with people to treat the symptoms of the trauma they have experienced and to heal or recover is a key part of our professions. For others, it may be that a chance meeting with someone who is distressed or a conversation with a tired and stressed colleague or customer at work is the time when this awareness is needed. And most of all, it can help us in the relationship that we spend the most time in - with ourselves.
Trauma is something that affects us all (as I wrote in more detail about in a previous article for this website called Physiology Education). Naturally, as mentioned earlier, the more likely we are to spend time regularly with people affected by trauma in our daily lives, the more expertise we need, but having that understanding that enables us to make a difference when it matters is important to all of us. I liken this to the need for all of us to be aware of essential first aid such as how to do Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (or CPR) but only those in the medical profession need be aware of how to treat related problems. Thanks to the #ACEAware nation movement, information about the impact of trauma is now even more readily available to all of us. Mental Health first aid is finally beginning to feel as important as Physical Health first aid. Hopefully, eventually it will be treated as one.
The key to learning about and understanding anything is to find a method which is relevant and understandable to us. One of my methods for educating on trauma involves using the psychological framework that I very commonly use in my training courses and also in my coaching, mentoring and psychologically informed supervision. It is called Choice Theory, created by a Counsellor, Psychologist and Psychiatrist called Dr William Glasser. As explained in a section of this website:
' It is a psychological model of human behaviour which provides us with the opportunity to understand ourselves more effectively and to make more informed choices about how we behave. Just as importantly, it allows us the opportunity to try to understand the perspective of others more effectively and to make more informed choices about how we behave in all of the relationships that we are in. There are four different components to the model; Basic Needs, Quality World, Total Behaviour and Perception. In all training, I will introduce them separately before demonstrating how they combine as dynamic and simultaneously occurring behavioural system'. (S Humphreys, 2018)
I find this method of understanding to be exactly what is required when trying to understand something as complicated as human psychology and physiology. It is comprehensive yet understandable when simply trying to gain some useful and relevant knowledge that can be applied to life situations, even after a just a short training workshop or presentation. It can be taken into as much detail as there is in terms of complex neuroscience if that is what you need, but it can also be extremely useful when just looking quite briefly at the basics if a practical understanding is what you need.
One of the key things that I explain and demonstrate is that when we do not find a way to gain some understanding and awareness of our feelings and find a way to express them, they will find a way of expressing themselves. This is exactly the point that Mate is making in the quote at the beginning of this article. This relationship between our psychological feelings and their accompanying physiological impact is summarised extremely effectively in Glasser's explanation of how we function. His concept of Total Behaviour in particular explains how our thoughts, actions, feelings and physiology link together and form part of dynamic, continuous behavioural loop along with our perception system and our motivations - our Basic Needs.
Our biology is such that stress is our automatic response to trauma. We can understand how we experience a build up of stress (or any other emotion) with the analogy of a bottle being filled with fizzy liquid continually. The container does not have infinite capacity and some of the contents must be released to prevent a catastrophic malfunction in the process of filling the container to no more than capacity. If we do not find a way to regulate our stress levels with effective self care then this will find its own way of regulating itself. Some way or another, we will go; 'Pop'! This includes a wide variety of illnesses, often auto immune conditions, issues that we once thought to be purely physiological. For example, the link between Chronic Pain and childhood trauma is discussed here https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/chronic-pain-and-childhood-trauma-2018033012768 .
The Choice Theory psychology is primarily a route to understanding self care, including how we understand ourselves and relate to those in all of the relationships that we are in. A key part of this is understanding how stress affects us, and ways to manage ourselves so that we are able to deal more effectively with stress and take action to heal from any trauma we may have experienced. We are then also better placed to be aware of possible signs in others that may be experiencing stress, possibly due to trauma, and to provide support to them to at least take the first step to deal more effectively with their feelings in the short term or to seek support or treatment to enable them to recover in the longer term. This is particularly important in cases where someone might be experiencing health problems caused by ACEs.
As Mate states in his aformentioned book:
'Emotional competence is what we need to develop if we are to protect ourselves from the hidden stresses that create a risk to health, and it is what we need to regain if we are to heal. We need to foster emotional competence in our children, as the best preventive medicine'.
It is never too late for anyone to heal from trauma. The first step is awareness. We all have the potential to become trauma informed and to help others to do so too. Whether the method is a Choice Theory course delivered by NowCounselling or any of the other fantastic courses and presentations currently available or indeed the seminal documentary film Resilience (@DocResilience), together we can share the awareness and continue along the road towards becoming an ACE aware nation, and beyond.
If you are interested in learning more, please see the workshop section of this website for details of the one day introduction to Choice Theory course, or for the three day Basic Intensive Workshop which is the first of five steps to accreditation with the William Glasser Institute as a practitioner in Choice Theory and its applications to a counselling skills setting (called Reality Therapy) or to other settings including schools or workplaces (called Lead Management). Open courses are available (the next is in April in Edinburgh) or a bespoke course or presentation to a closed group such as your team or organisation can be arranged. Individual coaching, supervision and mentoring using the Choice Theory psychology is also available.
NowCounselling courses are designed, written and delivered by Sean Humphreys, teaching faculty member of William Glasser International and William Glasser Institute UK, governing and accrediting bodies for Choice Theory, Reality Therapy and Lead Management.