I love a first appointment with a new client. I want to know everything all at once, but that’s not possible. There’s been a lot of living that has gone on long before anyone decides to come into my office. I’m settling in for the long haul. I want to be there for you if you think I can be helpful.
Before the first appointment ends, I want to know what just happened to make you call? What’s going on and when did it start? What are you hoping I can do to help? I’m also going to check in with you to see how you are doing with some basic skills. You’re going to need to get real good at these things, and I’m going to help you, so you can pull your life out of the trauma that gets in the way. In a first consultation with me, unless there’s a crisis happening, all these things are discussed.
Work on insight. You have to get okay with noticing what’s not working for you without being judgmental toward yourself. I’m going to hold the mirror while you look, and I’ll tell you what I think, but it’s not for me or anyone to decide what’s not working. That’s for you to decide. Those things then become our focus, and their improvement becomes your barometer for whether the consultation is helping. You might target getting an hour more sleep, reducing nightmares, spreading out panic attacks, having fewer irritable days or angry outbursts, or finding trustworthy family and friends. No harshness. No judgment. Insight means you are becoming aware of how you could be if the trauma had not happened.
Re-train your brain. When you were in that traumatically unsafe condition, your brain got rewired to be on the alert and ready for action at the drop of a hat. You are probably glad that you are alert enough that nothing takes you by surprise, but really, that protective part of your brain is too easily activated by just a whiff of danger. You can rewire trauma reactivity out of your brain from two directions: 1) intentionally remembering what happened and pushing back at the way it activates you; 2) calming yourself when you are activated and noticing that you first felt that way during a moment in time that was frozen in time. Retraining your brain gets the memory off loop. Makes it more likely that you can keep your brain from that misfire that screws things up.
Get some rest. You’re going to need a lot of rest to work through this stuff. I’m not talking about sleep. I’m talking about rest periods throughout your day, taken in safe places and with safe people or by yourself. If you are employed, take all the breaks provided by your employer. Rest during those breaks so you start slowing the pace of your heart and mind. If you are at home, rest after doing something productive. If couch surfing is your activity, then get up off the couch for periods of rest during the day. While resting at home, you could find a place to stand or sit where you can look off into the distance. You don’t have to learn to meditate or do relaxation techniques, but these could help. You’re getting into the practice of intentionally slowing down your brain so it’s not making you feel rushed. Resting during the day helps you to sleep better at night.
Live well. I agree with the old saying that living well is the best revenge, so every week deserves some activity that flies in the face of the trauma that has been dragging you down. What do you do for fun? What makes you laugh? What makes you feel that you matter? If your answers are nothing, then your starting place is to know that living well needs some immediate attention. Your question is more like, What fun things have I given up to feel safe? Baby steps.
Before the appointment ends, most people ask how long it’s going to take. My answer is almost always the same. Ask me again in six months. Getting free of trauma takes longer and takes more effort than anyone wants it to take. Getting better happens over time, gently and not harshly. While a good counselor might get pushy at times, harshness is not part of the strategy. Easy does it.