Trauma- Aware Approach to Coaching
There has been a growing awareness around the topic and impact of Trauma and with that cones a demand to be trauma-aware when working with coaching clients. Coaching is not Therapy and is non-clinical in nature. It is therefore advisable that you apply the screening tool and client questionnaire to effectively determine if a client is suitable to engage in coaching or is should better suited for clinical therapy. A trauma-aware approach to coaching can help help you understand when to refer your client to a clinical therapist.
There has been a shift in the understanding of Trauma - The general understanding was that a minority of people were traumatised. However, a new understanding of trauma has emerged and it is now understood to exist on a continuum from so-called little 't' trauma to big 'T' complex trauma. Few people have complex trauma, although more do than you might suspect. However, we all have little 't' trauma.
In the body of CONSCIOUSNESS COACHING, we come to learn that any negative 'emotional significant events' are small or big T in nature depending on the level that this influences and affects the person's current state of being.
Trauma is not what happened during the event, it is the the imprint of what lives on in the body and the nervous system after the event is over. It is the result of what happens wen an experience hasn't been emotionally and psychologically metabolised.
Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witnessThe bodies of traumatized people portray “snapshots” of their unsuccessful attempts to defend themselves in the face of threat and injury.
Trauma is a highly activated incomplete biological response to threat, frozen in time.
— Peter Levine, creator of Somatic Experiencing
Becoming informed and adopting a trauma-informed or trauma-sensitive way of serving clients is very necessary within our practice of coaching. We are streps ahead from Traditional Coaching modalities as CONSCIOUSNESS COACHING is grounded in presence, empathy and compassion however it is now more important than ever to be more trauma-aware in our approach. Trauma- aware coaching is not therapy - Rather, it is a trauma-sensitive approach to coaching that effectively works with the parts that feel hurt.
What skills do I need to support my clients with trauma?
With an increasing focus on sensitively handling clients who have experienced trauma, it is necessary to understand the extent to which your education and training has equipped you to do this. There are different levels of expertise when it comes to working in this space; however, they are often combined together under the most commonly used label, ‘trauma informed’.
A better way of understanding the spectrum of trauma education is to separate it into three categories:
Being aware of and sensitive to trauma (trauma aware)
Being informed about how to engage with people who have experienced trauma (trauma informed)
Being qualified to provide trauma renegotiation/resolution to people who have had trauma (trauma qualified)
What does it take to be ‘trauma qualified’?
Being trauma qualified means that you have taken a formal training or qualification in resolving trauma to be able to support clients to safely work through all the pieces of their trauma and heal.
To be suitably qualified to support complex trauma clients, 3-10 years of education and clinical experience working with a range of traumatic conditions is necessary, as well as the skills and experience to be able to identify what is trauma and what is not.
Most people who have dipped their toes into trauma education are either ‘trauma aware’ or ‘trauma informed’. It can be useful to differentiate them from trauma qualified in this way: trauma informed and trauma aware education focuses on thinking and talking about trauma, whereas effectively working with trauma requires leaning away from knowledge and trusting your experiential awareness.
It is now widely accepted that traumatic memories are mediated by the reptilian structures of the brain and that trauma qualified practitioners must intervene at the body level for long-term change. Body-based interventions can be movement or breath-related or can target the brain from the bottom-up by increasing body awareness and strengthening the neural pathways in the areas of the brain dedicated to noticing the body.
There is a lot of content online now about some of these therapeutic approaches but we must not believe ourselves equipped to working with clients that need Therapy.
Although top-down (cognitive) therapies might help someone know they are safe, bottom-up (body- based, somatic) therapies recalibrate the nervous system so the body feels safe. Therefore, to be considered trauma qualified, we have to move away from ‘knowing’ to ‘experiencing’ and become skilled in working with the body to help someone heal from trauma.
Nervous system regulation videos are available under bonus resources as part of your training.
What does it mean to be ‘trauma aware’?
Being aware of trauma means being able to empathise with someone else’s experience and correctly identify when they are reacting to a situation that has caused them to become distressed and their nervous system dysregulated. You might focus on their emotional response and try to calm that, but not really notice the nervous system issues in play.
You may be able to recognise that someone has experienced trauma, and you may be able to relate to the way they have reacted. However, you may not necessarily be aware of and recognise the range of potential responses someone may have to the same situation. Traumatic responses often don’t have a logical, linear explanation.
If someone has personally experienced trauma, they are already trauma aware up to the extent of their personal experience. They may be able to empathise in helpful ways, but it doesn’t mean they are qualified to support someone renegotiate trauma – or even to understand how it has affected the person’s relationships, identity, and sense of self.
To be considered trauma aware, you would need to understand and be mindful that a traumatic experience would have an impact on a person’s life in varying and unconnected ways, but not necessarily be able to identify the specific areas in which that person may experience that impact.
Safe ways to support your clients while being ‘trauma aware’
When you are trauma aware, you understand that affirmations, motivational self talk, and positive psychology sound like criticism, shame, and blame to a trauma survivor. Being positive feels and sounds toxic to someone who is still amid their traumatic experience and fake to someone who has already begun to heal from trauma.
Someone who has been frequently put down (or put on a pedestal and then taken down), told they are not good enough, or that they didn’t deserve a more loving childhood because there is something bad or inherently wrong with them, would have one of two core responses:
Feeling like their right to exist was being threatened.
Feeling a need to protect their vulnerability because their True Self was not being validated or welcomed.
Positive psychology tells a trauma-affected brain that the way they think is the problem, but because the traumatised person is merged with their thoughts (to keep them in their heads and protect them from feeling uncomfortable body sensations), the traumatised person believes they are the problem, which feels like a no-win situation.
For someone who has experienced childhood trauma, the feeling of ‘not being able to win or get it right’ reminds them of their family dynamic which caused them to feel hopeless, helpless, and unlovable on a daily basis because they couldn’t change who they are.
For people who haven’t been belittled, gaslit, shamed and excessively criticised when they did something wrong – words of encouragement inspire them to improve.
They feel motivated by phrases like, “Try it!” or “Take a risk!” or “Feel the fear!” or, “What’s the worst that could happen?”. But these same words are terrifying to someone who has a history of developmental/relational trauma.
Exactly what those words invoke is different for each person, but the contraction in the body is the same. Some might experience a knot of dread, a chill of terror, or a blind rage of protest, but underneath their unique set of emotional and physiological responses is a nervous system collapse and withdrawal of the true self.
A safe response to someone who is in distress is ‘compassion’ as opposed to ‘toxic positivity’.
I would also like to highlight the importance of reframing how you speak about 'lessons' in a spiritual context. Please do not say "the universe is tearing you this or that" what is this event 'teaching you' or "everything happens for a reason". You may instead suggest to the client that we are free to extract meaning and wisdom out of every event in our lives. You can guide the client to generate their own meaning from the events of their lives.
“Look on the bright side”, “It could be worse”, “Aw…don’t be upset!”, “The same thing happened to me” are all invalidating responses because they dismissing the person’s suffering.
Conversely, the following responses may help someone feel seen, validated, affirmed, acknowledged and welcomed exactly as they are.
“I see you”
“I hear you”
“I accept you as you are”
“This is a tough time”
“How can I support you?”
“I am here for you”
“You are not alone”
“Tell me more about it”
“Feel what you need to feel”
Creating ‘trauma aware’ habits in your practice
Being trauma aware requires:
comprehending that this pattern is not anyone’s fault.
a non-judgemental re-frame of the pattern as dysregulation causing mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, and energetic distress which is trying to be worked through holistically by the person’s mind-body-energy system.
A two-day course in trauma awareness is usually sufficient to explore and understand trauma and its effects. Often, these short courses also provide education in trauma-informed practice, although they tend not to have the time to dive deeply into lived examples, which is critical to understand and empathise as well as to move the bar from trauma aware to trauma informed and ground your knowledge.
What does it mean to be ‘trauma informed’?
Becoming 'trauma informed' is an active practice of integrating trauma awareness to create an expanded and more empathic perspective so you can be more conscious of the lived experiences of others. Through acquiring knowledge of people’s lived realities, and the skills to work with people from different traumatic backgrounds – even if they are vastly different from their own – space holders and leaders can learn to honour the wholeness of the human they are sitting with.
Being trauma informed means that you can appreciate that individuals with a secure attachment history are capable of accepting a person’s quirk or an inconsistency without interpreting it as a ‘threat’, but it could likely compromise a relationally traumatised individual’s sense of safety. For many people who have experienced relational/developmental trauma, safety is ALL or NOTHING. There is no ‘safe enough’ – as there is for persons with secure attachment systems – and this isn’t an accurate reflection of whether the person is safe.
Creating ‘trauma informed’ habits in your practice
To create safe, trauma-informed habits for supporting your clients, it is necessary to understand the ways you can infuse your awareness of trauma and its impact into your healing spaces, expand your understanding of trauma beyond personal experience, and honour the lived experiences and full humanity of the people you serve.
Guiding your clients and holding space with integrity is also vital and can be achieved through understanding the value and importance of:
keeping promises and not changing your mind arbitrarily or without a compelling reason
understanding that, even with a compelling reason and prior discussion about what will happen, there will be trauma reactions
not adopting a ‘go with the flow’ approach because uncertainty is unsettling for people with relational trauma
Two Courses I recommend you consider are as follows:
HeartMath Institute - The Resilient Heart
The Centre For Healing
Work with Caution
It is important to also highlight the risks involved in facilitating Energy Healing, Breathwork, Meditations and Guided Visualisations. Particularly Breathwork-- as it can disturb the most primal workings of the nervous system and in so doing poses a risk to the person's inner foundation. Please facilitate these modalities with caution and ensure you have practice insurance for all Modalities.
Resetting the Fight Flight Response in a Safe Way