Trauma and Coaching Series Part Three (Click here for Part One and here for Part Two of this series)
Relational trauma tends to create feelings of cognitive dissonance, shame and doubt. Many types of trauma can bypass cognitive functions and lodge in the body, creating implicit memories that are not connected to narrative memory. Even short-term trauma can disrupt memory areas of the brain, creating a sort of protective amnesia where details aren’t remembered or tracked. It’s common for a client to have false self-blaming beliefs and stories about the trauma that they have reinforced by excessive rumination. (It’s interesting to note that when people ruminate and blame themselves it can actually create somewhat of a feeling of control—this happened because I did X, so I won’t ever do X again.) In this post, we’ll look at both what to do and what not to do in coaching.
In general, clients healing from trauma tend to need:
- To safely experience their full and complete current emotional state, including body sensations, emotions, thought patterns, etc.
If the client is stable in their observer mind (see Part Two of this series on WHO to coach), they may find that a trusting coaching relationship is a safe place to explore their current emotional state. Even just talking things through with someone who is fully present and holding space with curiosity can be extremely helpful in the healing/integration process. And because trauma tends to live in the body, using embodiment techniques can help, in the words of embodiment expert Amanda Blake, to “surface the invisibles.” It’s very common for a traumatized client to not know what they don’t know. Their body has been partnering in helping them operate in the world as “fine,” while often still holding their tension, anxiety, anger and fear.
- To learn ways to self-regulate their central nervous system as difficult emotions and sensations arise.
Helping the client exploring sensations within their “window of tolerance” (see Part Two of this series for more on this important concept) is often a good first step in learning to self-regulate. Other techniques such as simple breath work, stress management techniques, and again, embodiment, can also help client become less “at effect” of their emotions and sensations.
- To find and reinforce a story that creates an empowering narrative, without doing a “spiritual bypass.”
Depending on the stage of healing and intensity of trauma, many coaching tools are designed to help clients surface and address limiting or false beliefs and reframe stuck perspectives. The strategy of reframing (sometimes called reappraisal) is one of the most powerful stress reducers we have available, and for clients healing from relational trauma can be a key part of the journey.
- And sometimes to explore ways to get their central nervous system more regulated without having to tell the story.
Sometimes helping clients explore ways to manage stress and discomfort without going into the story is the best strategy for the stage the client is in. A coach can also work with client to explore and move froward in areas of life unrelated to the trauma, gaining confidence and self-esteem in the process.
What NOT to Do
There is a lot we can do in coaching, but perhaps just as importantly, we need to look at what NOT to do:
- Push the client outside their window of tolerance during the coaching.
- Treat the abuse as a “compatibility” issue, a “bad break-up” or minimize the pathological behavior of the abuser.
- Interrupt key features of the healing process by trying to get the survivor to “heal” quickly.
- Make the victim responsible for the actions of the abuser.
- Mistake the abuser as well-intentioned and communicate this to the survivor.
- Refer without being sure referral partner is relational-trauma trained.