Trauma Relief! Then What?

Published May 31, 2021, The NASAP Newlsetter (The Connection), Erik Mansager, PhD

Here’s part of an email I received recently from a former counseling student now in private practice. I’ve added in some links [in square brackets] for easy reference to the training referred to.

I'm really loving working from a Polyvagal Theory lens [Polyvagal theory in practice - Counseling Today].  I also work with a protocol called Safe and Sound [The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) - The Safe and Sound Protocol UK], which works the middle ear through specially filtered music - the results are so interesting.  Finally started training on eating disorders called Embodied Recovery [Home - Embodied Recovery in Los Gatos, CA] - it is a soma-psycho-social model that sees the behaviors and symptoms as the body actually speaking about how it makes sense of the world, how it feels safe and how it thrives and that the body itself is a resource in the recovery process.  The model pulls in work from Polyvagal, Sensorimotor [Home page - Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute], and SE [Home - Somatic Experiencing - Continuing Education (] - really interesting way to approach addictions. I imagine it can be used broadly.

Wow! That is a dedicated practitioner of the healing arts! One of many I’m thrilled to know for the seriousness with which they take their practices.

I appreciate very much that colleagues practice new approaches and report about their application with great enthusiasm. After all, I’m an Adlerian enthusiast myself.

As an Adlerian, my quest is how to tailor appropriate interventions to heal the individual – in the midst of their symptomology. I seek to provide first relief and also release – release from whatever underlying habitual susceptibilities contributed to one’s vulnerability to trauma. Resolving one’s mistaken outlook allows us to understand our place in healing the world. This is the healing potential of Individual psychology.

What makes the individuals susceptible are the mistaken conclusions drawn from early childhood. These still inform their adult interactions and transactions. It is easy to “mistakenly conclude” in childhood whether or not the experiences were traumatic. The susceptibilities – mistaken approaches – are both states of mind and personality traits that prepare the individual to deal with a given circumstance, or its aftermath, in particular tried-and-true ways.

So, whenever my colleagues and I are case conceptualising together, I ask, “From your treatment perspective, can you help me understand what purpose the client’s symptom serves?” They frequently respond about the importance of personal safety and security from past distressing experiences or ongoing re-enactments of the event.

Such purpose, for Adlerians, is understandable in the short run – but it is a mistake in the long run.

My question tries to ferret out, how a given interaction (from benign occurrence up to a traumatic event) impacts individuals’ understanding of themselves. Each evidence-based approach mentioned above has an effective way of interacting with the vulnerable client to help negotiate the trauma (short term benefit). But once the traumatic event is dealt with – and perhaps resolved: what then? What about the long run?

What do clients believe they must do as a result of the event (Hide? Abandon hope? Aggress another? Harm themselves?) or as a result of the healing (Self-protect? Live happily? Help others in similar circumstances? Return to “normal”?)? Because it is this self-perception – one’s lifestyle – that remains after the work of therapy.

How do they interact, post-traumatically? How free are they to be who they understand themselves to be; now? If we therapists aim to reinstate the homeostasis that predated the trauma – will it suffice? Dare we venture further into the controversial area of helping the vulnerable one understand how to change the underlying habitual susceptibilities they developed which intensify their vulnerability?

How our vagus nerve operates and directs information, how our middle ear structure functions regarding acoustic transfer after trauma, how our whole-body – along with its sensory capacities – is involved in the delicate balance of recovery, and how to apply stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics in understanding the body – all these are worthy pursuits to resolve traumatic symptoms. And after the symptom resolution – there remains an individual.

The work of releasing the individual from underlying mistaken conclusions is essential to Adler’s healing process.