You ask and I answer! In the Ask Me Anything series, I answer your questions about my own healing journey and anything trauma related in general, as best I can. Today’s question is:
Which therapy worked best for me and my healing?
When I first began my healing journey in January 2017 I had no idea there were “therapy models” or that some might work better for me than others. In fact, until that spring, I was not familiar with nor did I identify as a “trauma survivor” let alone a sexual abuse survivor.
As a teenager and even in my 20s I was in and out of talk therapy. In my teenage years it was my therapist (P) who was a mandated reporter and the reason that the trial against my grandfather ensued. I stayed in touch with her for a few years after and even called her when my oldest was first born.
In my 20s, while still very disconnected from my childhood, every once in a while life would become too much and I would run to a therapist for maybe 5 or 6 sessions, regurgitate my whole story and learn I was depressed.
None of them ever mentioned Trauma or PTSD.
Fast forward to 2017, I was 37 years old.
First Stop, Local Agency
In 2009-2011 I attended the local college and focused on an associates degree in Human Services. That would have been my 2 year stepping stone into Social Work or counseling. I didn’t finish that degree (story for another time) but I did learn a lot from the classes, one of those things was knowledge about the majority of the local agencies that offered support and resources in my city.
I knew who to call and that is what I did.
I went in to meet with K, the first person to introduce me to the language of trauma healing and complex PTSD, and the first safe space for processing I had ever experienced as an adult.
K sat with me every week for 18 months, sometimes for hours. She never watched the clock and the agency was a nonprofit so they never asked for insurance or money. Eventually I began setting my own alarm during our sessions so I didn’t go over 90ish minutes.
K and that agency saved me and became the catalyst for my healing journey to begin. K caught me as I fell and held me until I could get up on my own and I will forever be grateful to her for that. She also recognized how deep and layered my trauma was and so, she recommended me to EMDR.
I really had no idea what EMDR was but I took that recommendation and started making calls. There weren’t many therapists in my area who were certified in EMDR who also took my insurance but I found a couple, checked them out on Psychologytoday.com and chose one.
I started seeing W in March of 2017. I made an appointment, went in, and said I want to do EMDR as I vomited my entire story out again. In addition to EMDR, W also used CBT, goal oriented therapy, and the PCSL-5 as a means of tracking and quantifying my CPTSD symptoms for a better focused treatment plan.
She also introduced me to bodywork and somatic healing.
For the next 15 months I saw both of my counselors each week. W was a space where I went and dug into the work, K is where I processed the digging.
What Worked For Me
All of it has worked, and I believe it was all necessary in order to get me here today.
EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) was difficult in the beginning, I didn’t know what to expect, I was still cultivating safety with my therapist, and I was worried about doing it wrong.
Occasionally it brought up memories that froze me or threw me into panic (which my therapist would them work through with me), other times my mind and body put up a wall and wouldn’t cooperate, and on occasion it would viscerally rip the intrusive and heightened stress from my body as I felt the edges soften immediately.
CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) talk therapy has been huge for me. I have never had a space where I can be so authentic and vulnerable safely. I have never had anyone believe me the way I have been believed as I heal. And, as someone who prefers to live in my head, I welcomed my therapist meeting me there for intellectual processing.
If she hadn’t started there, she would have never gotten me to drop into my body.
The PCL-5 is a self reporting questionnaire for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a series of questions that touch on all areas of PTSD from avoidance, to intrusive thoughts, to memory loss, to sleep issues, and everything in between. You answer each question on a scale of never to all the time.
This questionnaire gave me a score based on the level of active symptoms I was experiencing at any time which gave me a number to work with, a number to try to change, a number that soon represented how I regained pieces of my life.
In 6 years I brought my score from nearly 70, down to an 11-13 depending on the week.
This PSCL-5 offered me the information needed to create goal focused work and while I could never complete “therapy homework” I could focus on on my small goals like “recognizing and becoming aware of my anger 50% of the time” or “redirecting negative thoughts of self 75% of the time” and so on.
Finally, the Body Work Begins
It probably took me three years before I truly “dropped into my body” and I do credit EMDR to helping facilitate the reconnection. But most importantly it was W – anytime I was sharing something emotionally huge, she would ask me where I felt it in my body, which got me practicing focused awareness of my physical self for the first time in my life.
She would show me breathing exercises and do them with me. She suggested I explore yoga, meditation, walks outdoors, as well as reiki and energy work. She offered book recommendations and even once mentioned Heart Math which I haven’t done but absolutely want to.
Healing and Therapy is a Multifaceted Journey
What I have learned so far in my healing, especially as I reflect and write this all out for you is that my healing has been a mixture of different therapy methods and somatic practices. What I use ebbs and flows depending on the season of my healing. I have also come to realize that it was how it all unfolded for me that has allowed me to lean into the healing I have done. I wouldn’t be where I am today if even one of the things that brought me here had been different.
Find What Works for You
As you read this, perhaps you are taking notes in order to look into these things I have mentioned, later. As you explore, reach out, and continue to embark on your healing journey, always know that you choose! You are in control.
You choose who is right for your therapy team.
You choose what methods and practices feel safe.
You decide when and how to drop into your body safely.
You decide when it’s time to stop using a method that no longer works, or when it is time to add a new one.
The most powerful part of healing is how we reclaim the sovereignty of our choices in the aftermath of our childhood abuses; don’t ever forget that.
On goes the journey
Submit Your Own Question
Looking for Ways to Connect With Other Survivors and/or Receive Support as You Heal?
Survivor’s Circle Peer Support Groups might be just what you need.
These small groups meet on alternating Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays via Zoom. In these groups, survivors connect, share, and support each other through the ebbs and flows of healing. Attend a session and experience the magical healing that happens when survivors connect and support each other through shit only we can understand.
You can also book individual 1:1 peer support sessions with Shanon for private support in a closed space. You deserve support as you heal, and I am here to help. You don’t have to heal alone.
I am a trauma informed, trained, and Certified Peer Support Specialist in the state of Wisconsin. I am also a survivor with years committed to my own trauma healing after being diagnosed with (C) PTSD due to childhood abuse. Additionally, I have a professional and personal history of community facilitation and peer work.
I specialize in helping survivors like you make connections between real time experiences and past trauma wounds, identify and communicate boundaries, create self-care plans that work, navigate big emotions and trauma responses, reparent your inner child, and embody your own self-worth through the healing process with confidence and personal empowerment.
These support groups and 1:1 peer support sessions should not replace professional therapy; they will however provide additional support and information.