Trauma Therapist vs Trauma-Informed Coach: Why you need to know the difference.

Trauma is unique to you and your treatment needs to reflect that.

Trauma is a truly sensory experience. It’s unique in itself and the trauma response is unique to you. Therefore the expertise you seek to support you in your healing journey is equally unique to you; it should be clinically understood & managed in a healing process and in my professional opinion you should be fully aware & informed of what you’re looking for, what specialist trauma expertise you’re going to receive and how you will receive it. You wouldn’t buy a pair of shoes without making sure they were the right size for you and weren’t going to cause you pain, would you?

You see, as a Specialist Trauma Therapist I have had many clients come to me having received therapy or trauma-informed coaching previously which hasn’t been helpful for their experiences. They have continued to feel stuck and in some cases have been re-traumatised in the process. I often find I have to help heal the recent re-traumatising before I can guide women to the emotional & psychological safety from their historical trauma. In the first instance my therapeutic task is to create a safe & secure relationship. It’s what I had to do for Michelle, a business woman & entrepreneur who came to me this year. Initially connecting with me because of the worries she had for her daughter, it became deeply apparent that the healing needed to be for Michelle, but she explained that she was already in therapy and had been for two years. I asked her how she felt that was progressing for her and heard from her that she felt she was in a dark pit, trying to scramble her way out whilst the therapist held a ladder out of reach at the top. This was alarming to say the least. My opinion is that ANY therapy should be an empowering, autonomous, liberating process. I agreed with Michelle that the therapy relationship she had had was one that felt comforting for her on a weekly appointment basis, like an anchor, but something had to change. Trauma therapy isn’t holding a ladder whilst someone is in a pit breaking their nails on the walls as they try to climb out on their own. It said to me that the therapist she had been seeing wasn’t trauma trained & didn’t appear to have the skills to provide that empowering guidance through Michelle’s childhood trauma. I explained what trauma therapy is and the choices she had. She chose to work with me and three months later was emotionally & psychologically liberated, free and shining in the confidence of having discovered her real self.

She needed no other therapy and is doing fabulously well.

Why am I sharing Michelle’s story? It’s because

Not all therapy & trauma-informed coaching is created equal!

I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not here to bash anyone’s skills, their training, the knowledge that they’ve added to their business. I think it’s great that there is a growing interest in trauma informed practice. I think it’s wonderful that ‘trauma’¬† is coming out of the shadows and we are educating people and de-stigmatising the effects and experiences of trauma so that people find their voices. I have been a part of that movement in my 22 years trauma therapy provision, in the teaching & training I provide to professionals, my choice of psycho-education posts on my social media, my own story of trauma healing & recovery and my live podcast ‘Conversations with Compassion’ which you can watch here

It is, however, hugely important to distinguish between the differences of focus, training, skills and expertise so that you make the right decision for you because there are lots of therapists & coaches out there that say they work with and/or treat trauma but the qualifications & clinical experience may not match the statement. If you are really wanting help in your inner healing & recovery, it is important to distinguish between the profiles claiming to work with trauma and those clinicians who, putting it bluntly, actually know what they are doing. Simply having an interest in working with trauma does not make a therapist or coach a trauma specialist. Anyone can listen while you share the details of a traumatic event that you experienced, but knowing what to do with those experiences and how to help you heal from the things that have happened requires specific qualifications, training, supervision, and in many cases, certification. In my experience I have had great relationships with accredited trauma-informed coaches who have understood clearly that their expertise doesn’t fall into the realms of providing specialist clinical healing, and we have worked alongside each other with the same client in order to support them in their goals, hopes, & desires.

What is Specialist Trauma Therapy?

Trauma therapy by a qualified, trained, clinically experienced specialist trauma therapist ensures that the therapist has a true understanding of trauma; it’s impact on the body, brain, emotion and behaviour. How the brain becomes hard-wired and associations are formed that cause you to respond in an automatic, survival-driven manner, rather than how you want to respond. A specialist trauma therapist is willing and capable of attending to the fire and pain that are driving the emotions and behaviours and work though these in a structured and safe way that ensures an externalising, containment, meaning making and integration of the experiences. Trauma is co-morbid with so many other factors and having a core awareness of those and their impact and differential diagnosis is crucial in a specialist trauma area of expertise so that there is a solid understanding and creation of an efficacious treatment

Trauma therapy has it’s focus not on avoiding unpleasant or uncomfortable emotions but on building your awareness and tolerance to hold these emotions through compassion. Therapeutic strategies focus on regulating the nervous system, emotional agility and body & brain regulation.

There are of course trauma therapists who specialise in different areas of trauma, so it is important that you have an understanding of what type of trauma therapist you’re looking for, but equally that the trauma therapist is clear about what they don’t work with. As a Specialist Trauma Therapist working with Childhood trauma, C-Ptsd, Attachment & Developmental Trauma, Relational Trauma & Sexual Abuse, there are areas of trauma that I don’t work with but I will always help people find the right clinical expert for them for the trauma they have experienced. I am clear on my therapeutic approaches and¬† boundaries and would never take a client who I felt needed a different approach to the skills and expertise I have. Sadly, there are some therapists and coaches who don’t have the same values and the impact of that is far reaching and in all honesty heartbreaking.

So, how does trauma-informed coaching differ?

Trauma informed coaches understand the presence of trauma in the coach-client relationship and how it should be used as guidance for resilience and solution-focused resolution. They will work in the same way as regular coaches but have the knowledge to understand when trauma injuries may be holding back their clients progress; for example you may be working with a trauma-informed business coach focusing on your business strategy, visibility and marketing with a clear focus in mind, but you have a narrative of trauma responses which influence your capacity to move forward, uplevel and feel confident in your abilities and self worth.

A trauma-informed coach will be able to recognise these trauma responses…

…and hold the space for a deeper coaching experience, they will have training in client regulation, the brain-body connection, the causes of trauma and trauma responses and the subsequent symptoms. What is hugely important is that a trauma-informed coach will also have the understanding in the need for referring to a specialist trauma therapist and clinical professionals and working in collaboration in the best interests of their client.

Trauma-informed coaching isn’t:

  • Practising as a faux-therapist or entering the therapy domain
  • Working with clients who would be better helped by a therapist
  • Working only with those with visible signs of trauma.

Trauma-informed coaches have a working understanding of trauma, not as deep as a therapist needs, but enough to define and describe what it is. They also understand the situations which produce the lasting neuro-physiological trauma response, from conception onwards and will have learned methods to ground your nervous system, shed shame through appropriate questioning and promote your wellness.

Such coaches will be able to listen out for the signs and symptoms that may be part of an internal trauma system¬† They have creative approaches for accessing autobiographical information without any aim to be diagnosticians or therapists¬† They will be skilled at inviting you to explore possible links between the ‚Äėthere and then‚Äô and the ‚Äėhere and now‚Äô, and to reflect on what action in the present is healthy for your wellbeing. They should also feel confident about when and how to raise the issue of trauma, and how it might be presenting you, whilst staying firmly in the coaching relationship and approach and advising and guiding you to specialist trauma therapy for what you are experiencing.

Be informed in what you need.

It is important that you feel equipped to acknowledge the type of approach you need and whether you are in a therapeutic relationship that isn’t meeting your needs or a trauma-informed coaching relationship in which you feel your trauma requires more specialist therapeutic healing, you have the knowledge & voice to be able to state your needs clearly.

Your trauma experiences do not have to hold you back from living your life as the real you, building the fabulous professional/business/entrepreneurial life, or having the relationships you richly deserve.

Just make sure that you make the right choice for you in the support you receive. I don’t ever want you to feel like Michelle did, helpless and broken at the bottom of a pit.

About me:

I’m Helen Ferguson and I’ve been a Psychotherapist specialising in Childhood & Complex (CPTSD) Trauma & Sexual Abuse for 23 years. I guide women and children in healing from their past and create their safer future..

My qualifications, knowledge and expertise are embedded in Mental Health, Developmental Psychotherapy, Attachment Therapy, Narrative Story Stem Assessment (children) Somatic Attachment Therapy & Healing, Polyvagal Therapy, Sexual Abuse Recovery, Bio-energetic Therapy, Abuse and Trauma Recovery, Neuroscience of Trauma and it’s impact on brain development, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy,¬† Self Compassion Therapy, Internal Family Systems Therapy and Family Therapy.

I’m an empath and deeply compassionate woman who sits with you and your pain, listening with my heart ears giving you time to open up your inner world to me without fear of being judged. I hold you safely and never let you fall.

My ‘Heart Of Healing Trauma’ Therapy program is my signature three month therapeutic healing program in which I guide you to heal from the past, and create your safer future. You can get to know me more and feel supported by me in these different ways

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