Complex Trauma and The Healing Journey

 A radio conversation on complex trauma, its causes, effects, and effective interventions 

Join our principal psychologist, Neo Eng Chuan, in a radio interview with Joel Chua on 93.8FM Live Journeys Within to understand more about Complex Trauma, its causes, signs and symptoms, impacts on psychological well being, real life examples and psychotherapeutic approaches to treat and heal Complex Trauma.  Click here!   

The most profound thing that develops or evolves as therapy progresses is when the client transforms from someone who is so meek, so afraid of the perpetrator, to a person or a place where he or she is able to assert anger, assertive anger to the perpetrator. It’s this idea about how the client is now able to stand up for himself or for herself and no longer a victim, then developing this sense of energy, that source of agency, that source of protection for himself or herself… That’s an amazing transformation that we always work towards. Some takes longer, some takes faster. But most of the time, we get there. (Neo Eng Chuan on 93.8 Live Journeys Within, January 2019)  

Below is a summary of the questions and answers from the interview with a time indication. This may help you to tune to the part you’re most interested in.  

[1:05] What is Psychological Trauma 

Trauma refers to very unusual, extreme, unsafe event or situation… It can be once-off or single episode.  

[2:05] How about Complex Trauma? 

Complex Trauma refers to repeated exposure to traumatic events. For example, a child is subjected to abuse (verbal or physical) for three, five years. Besides abuse, there can be neglect or abandonment. In complex trauma, the perpetrator is usually someone known to the victim, which creates further challenges for the victim in their healing journeys.  

There are some types of abuse that may seem “silent” yet may have negative impacts on the person’s psychological health. For example, constant put down every aspect about a child: “You’re not good enough. You’ll never be successful. You’re such a burden…” These messages that come from someone that the child looks upon for nurturing can be very painful and confusing for the child.  

As adults, we have abilities and resources. If our needs are not met, we can find other resources. For a child, they so lack in resources. When they report to another adult, they can easily be dismissed, told that they’re lying or even punished. These experiences create an added layer of hurt, on top of the one that is caused by the trauma.  

[10:20] Signs and symptoms of complex trauma 

Adult survivors of complex trauma can manifest symptoms of anxiety and depression. They may have difficulties maintaining relationship. It is important that the mental health professionals take a thorough developmental history.  

[17:18] Treating complex trauma 

The therapists take a gradual approach in the healing process. While resistance to the emotional pain is normal, in order to heal, it is absolutely important that the client revisits the painful experiences. With the support of the therapist, the client slowly gains the strength to process the painful experiences.  

[23:00] Imaginal Confrontation 

In this technique, the therapist helps the client to imagine the perpetrator in an empty chair and confront the perpetrator. This can be very difficult for the client.  

[27:10] What is the most profound thing that you have helped the client say? 

“The most profound thing that develops or evolves as therapy progresses is when the client transforms from someone who is so meek, so afraid of the perpetrator, to a person or a place where he or she is able to assert anger, assertive anger to the perpetrator […] It’s this idea about how the client is now able to stand up for himself or for herself and no longer a victim, then developing this sense of energy, that source of agency, that source of protection for himself or herself… That’s an amazing transformation that we always work towards. Some takes longer, some takes faster. But most of the time, we get there.”  

[29:00] Some self-regulation techniques for individuals 

Being present, breathing exercise or imagining a relaxing place may be helpful in the short term. However, it is advised that you talk to someone you can trust or seek help from a mental health professional.  

[32:00] How to help youths with Autism Spectrum Disorder who might have experienced complex trauma 

The children with ASD already has difficulties regulating their emotions so the healing journey is even more challenging. The therapist can be empathic and supportive. As tactile learners, it may be useful to get them to hold a pillow to calm down. When they are ready, they still need to process the difficult memories.  

“It’s like there’s an infection and the way to get to the infection is to have this surgery. Surgery can cause pain and yet at the same time, once it’s done, it can be healing.” (Neo Eng Chuan on 93.8 Live Journeys Within, January 2019)  

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