FIND THE RIGHT PRACTITIONER
I often hear people say that they've "worked through" trauma in therapy, yet they're still experiencing symptoms of unprocessed trauma—of which they may or may not even be aware. These symptoms are showing up as anxiety, depression, addictions, problems in relationships, issues with sleep and weight, and overall not feeling comfortable in their own skin.
Not realizing that these symptoms are linked to unresolved trauma, people get stuck in a vicious cycle of symptom management through medication or self-medicating with food, alcohol, and drugs.
It breaks my heart, because there's a better way--a way out of this vicious cycle by resolving trauma.
To begin, let's get on the same page about one foundational fact:
Talk therapy doesn't resolve deep layers of embodied trauma. Talking through does not equal working through.
Connecting with the right practitioner to help you resolve and release embodied traumas can be life-changing.
Working with a right practitioner for somebody else, but a wrong practitioner for you can be a frustrating, time- and money- wasting, and even a retraumatizing experience.
I've gone down both rabbit holes on my journey. I've worked with wrong practitioners. For years. These experiences left me feeling like something was wrong with me.
I've worked with right practitioners. They've empowered me to become my own therapist and healer by teaching me effective tools to learn how my mind and body work together, manage my mood, and transform old traumas -which I didn't even know I had - and my life.
My goal here is to share with you my notes on what I've found helpful in selecting the right practitioner for my journey. I hope they help you.
NOTES ON THE RIGHT AND WRONG PRACTITIONERS
Signs of the WRONG PRACTITIONER:
With them, you feel like something's wrong with you. For years in therapy, I felt like something was wrong with me. After all, I went every single week, talked and cried my heart out, and felt as messed up - or more - as ever! Because now I was aware of how messed up I was. But my symptoms of anxiety and depression, and my whack-a-mole addiction, and my oh-so-wrong-for-me choices were not budging.
There's a power differential in your relationship, where they have more power. I had this experience with a therapist who interpreted my dream, like it was his (no one has a right or "expertise" to interpret your dreams, by the way, but you). His interpretation reduced one of the most powerful, lucid, guiding, and prophetic dreams I've ever had to "an anxiety dream about meditation."
Even if you feel you're in the driver's seat, you don't have a map, and you certainly don't know where the hell you're going. There're saying in therapy, like "everyone's journey is unique," and "healing takes time," and "healing's not a straight line..." While true, they're often used to cover up the fact that a practitioner doesn't have a map either. They don't know where the heck you two are going, let alone when you're going to get there.
You're not making tangible progress - apart from a short-lived feel-good of talking to another human who's contractually obligated to listen to whatever comes out of your mouth while being reasonably supportive for 45 minutes week after week. Not only is this a waste of time and money, it's damaging to your confidence and self-esteem. "Really, how messed up do you have to be, that after years of therapy, you're still stuck?" is a very common conclusion that people arrive at. I certainly did. It didn't help my case. So, please, don't repeat my mistakes.
You don't tell you ANYTHING about themselves, even when you ask. Or they never shut up talking about themselves. Oh boy, I've had both kinds. Just be a human with me, will ya? It would really help me to feel like a human with you, not like a lab subject in a Petri dish.
Your therapist is color- and gender- and other kinds of blind. That's a big one. So many "mental health symptoms" are appropriate and healthy reactions to oppression. If your therapist does not presence in the room your race, gender, sexual orientation, and other aspects of your identity that have you experience collective trauma of oppression. Well, educate them if you have the time and compassion and love them enough. Or walk.
If your therapist is not trauma-informed. As you might have guessed, that's a deal-breaker for me.
Signs of the RIGHT PRACTITIONER:
You feel loved - yes, loved - unconditionally. You feel like they don't see you as a flawed human project to be fixed. But as a whole and complete human on their journey of healing and growth.
You feel equal. You feel like two equal fallible yet lovable humans, figuring something out together. You feel respected. You feel like you matter.
You're in the driver's seat and you know where you're going. Your therapist is your co-pilot. You've mapped out the route together. It makes sense to you. You're excited for the journey. Your therapist is pointing out milestones and landmarks to you. They're keeping a keen eye on the gas tank and your energy levels, to make sure you have capacity to go another mile today or you need to rest and integrate.
At the end of each session, you can answer the question: "What have you learned? What are you taking with you? What has made a difference in your experience?" And what goes into your answer has been genuinely valuable to you. Week after week, you feel better, more skilled, more capable. There's a therapy adage: "You'll feel worse before you feel better." I call BS on this one. Yes, there are moments when you'll feel more intensity. But you your therapist should have given you the tools to deal with it. You should not feel worse, without the toolset to effectively navigate and harness this intensity.
Your therapist is a human being. Back when I still had my therapy practice AND was teaching online courses, I was sending out a regular newsletter for people who were interested in my online content. (I still do, subscribe here.) This one client was, apparently, subscribed to my newsletter, where I talked openly about my very human struggles. She came to our session one day and said: "I've never before had a therapist who shared ANYTHING about themselves. I've never before had a therapist who was EFFECTIVE."
Your therapist is a feminist, an ally to people of color and LGBTQ+ people, not stuck in a gender binary and any other harmful patriarchal paradigm. They may not have shared your experiences of facing oppression, but they're willing and able to hear and learn about them and understand them deeply, as a part of the tapestry that makes you who you are. They are able to appreciate the role of oppression and adversity in creating your symptoms, and they see them as life-saving trauma adaptation that you've developed--not as something that's "wrong with you."
Your therapist is trauma-informed. They understand that unprocessed trauma underlies just about every mental health expression. They possess the awareness and the skillset necessary to help you work through it effectively.
There are therapy methods dedicated to mind-body trauma resolution. They go by many names, such as body-oriented therapies, mind-body therapies, somatic trauma therapies, etc.
Consider using these as key words in your search for a practitioner or ask the practitioners you're interviewing if they practice in these modalities. Yes, you must interview your practitioner before you decide to trust them with your most precious asset--your mental health. More on that in the following section.
Therapists who practice mind-body approaches to trauma healing may be drawling from diverse modalities or following specific protocols, such as Focusing, Hakomi, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Somatic Experiencing®, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and others.
Outside the mental health treatment world, the following practices are being used as adjunct treatment for trauma / PTSD: yoga, tai chi, qigong, mindfulness-based stress reduction, meditation, and deep breathing. Research on these practices has shown therapeutic effects on reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and anger, as well as improving pain tolerance, self-esteem, energy levels, ability to relax, and ability to cope with stressful situations.
Your practitioner may be using their own method of talk therapy combination with any of the above.
For example, one of the modalities I'm trained in, Yoga for Depression and Anxiety, developed by Amy Weintraub, harnesses the benefits of specific yoga practices for mental health. You may consider working with mental health practitioners who're trained in this or similar integrative approaches.
In selecting your practitioner, I recommend asking questions like:
How do you approach working with... (what you're looking to work on)?
(If the response covers only the cognitive--insight, analysis, etc. without the mention of the body/physiology, this is not your practitioner.
If the person brings us "a combination of talk therapy and medication," ask more questions. While medication is indicated and saves lives in some cases, it's unfortunately overprescribed as a supplement to talk therapy, because talk therapy doesn't resolve trauma and oftentimes does nothing to help manage the symptoms. Medication doesn't resolve trauma either, but it helps manage physiological symptoms.
If therapy and medication is chosen as a starting point in treatment, it is important that it doesn't become be-all-end-all: Managing symptoms without resolving the underlying condition that's creating them is not a solution.)
What results are your clients achieving and on what timeline?
Watch out for vague responses and a lack of a track record in symptom reduction and resolving issues of concern in a reasonable timeframe.
Beware of the fallacy in the mental health world that conditions like depression and anxiety are "incurable" or "treatment-resistant." It's simply not true: Ask anyone who's successfully resolved theirs with effective mind-body tools, like myself, my mentors, and people we've collectively helped do the same.
A questions to yourself: What does intuition have to say?
Now that you've done your homework: You've gathered the background information and you've asked questions you wanted to ask, it's time for the most important question. It's not an intellectual one. It requires attunement to your intuition, your inner knowing.
I recommend using a Repower tool before asking this question to get out of your very intelligent and very informed head and get in touch with the wisdom of your body.
The question is: Is this a practitioner for me?
The answer will be: Yes or No.
That's how you know whether the answer is coming from your mind or from your intuition. The mind rationalizes. Elaborates. Justifies. Your intuition is binary. It's crystal clear.
You don't get to ask follow-up questions. You just trust your gut and go with it.
Good luck! And if you find an amazing practitioner you adore, who blows your socks off and helps you heal and transform your life, would you please let me know? I'd love to share their name as a resource for others.
MENTAL HEALTH PRACTITIONERS
Did you recognize yourself in the RIGHT PRACTITIONER section? Send us a link to your practice, we'd love to help people find you!
Did you recognize yourself in some aspects of the WRONG PRACTITIONER session? Congratulations on this new awareness and owning it! I know, it's not your fault--it's the patriarchal formal training that we all have received!
Whether you are on your journey as a practitioner, if you're looking to learn more effective tools for embodied trauma resolution and connect with a community of fellow healers, please subscribe to my newsletter. Thank you for joining our movement!