Trauma can be long lasting and devastating. It can also have huge impacts on mental health, daily functioning and personal relationships.
“A traumatic event can lead to a collapse of the fabric of life around an individual and they can feel like they have lost control,” says Karthika, Trauma Counsellor with Windermere Child & Family Services.
Trauma is an overwhelming emotional response which is triggered by an intensely distressing or threatening experience. This can be a one off incident such as a violent assault or ongoing stresses such as family violence or bullying.
Trauma survivors may constantly re-live their ordeal. They experience intense emotions such as fear and helplessness, nightmares and flashbacks. They can also have a range of physical symptoms such as nausea, fatigue and headaches.
“Unfortunately when we have an overwhelmingly negative experience, our emotions can become trapped. We are unable to move on from the impact of the traumatic event until we process our responses to what has happened,” says Karthika.
Trauma counselling can assist trauma survivors to improve their quality of life by supporting them to relieve their constant anxiety and distress.
“Counselling can assist an individual to navigate that sense of despair and cycle of reactivity towards a self-directed, enriched personal life,” says Karthika.
Windermere specialises in counselling for victims of crime and family violence survivors. This includes both adults and children. Sessions are usually held individually although sometimes joint counselling sessions are held to improve relationships and communication between parents and children.
The aim is for people to feel safe again by assisting them to understand, express and manage their emotions.
Counselling is offered over a series of sessions. These consist of a longer, initial session followed by a series of 50 minute sessions.
For many, counselling provides a safe space to speak about their trauma and it may be one of the first times they have spoken about their experience.
As people progress through counselling they are encouraged to recognise their strengths and how to protect themselves. “Sessions can see a progression of simple to complex issues all of which are significant to each person in their daily lives,” says Karthika.
The sessions may be intense, but counselling can ultimately assist people to make positive changes to their lives. Karthika supported one mum who had been forced out of her home due to family violence. This particular individual was isolated and had a language barrier. She was also living in fear for her safety. Counselling supported her to gain confidence and feel empowered to rebuild her life. She went on to access language classes, obtain a driver’s licence and even start her own business in tailoring clothes.
Karthika also worked with a young girl who was deeply distressed and utterly terrified of sharp objects used in the house because it was associated with her early experiences. This made it extremely difficult for the girl to eat or for the family to prepare meals. Counselling assisted her to identify safe people and places, become calmer and to be able to do her routine activities.
“Counselling encourages us to know our strengths and identify internal and external support systems to protect ourselves,” says Karthika.
A range of counselling methods may be used to assist people to express their feelings and understand a situation. This can include, art, role play, sand tray and the use of figurines.
“We might do a role play to prepare for court where a trauma survivor has to fight their case against a perpetrator who is present in the court. Figurines could be used to give a new perspective on a family violence situation,” says Karthika.
Windermere counselling services can be accessed free through government funded programs for victims of trauma and crime. Windermere also offers fee for service counselling to access specialised therapeutic services.