Are you Hurting: Part One - The Antidote to Psychological Pain

I’ve been thinking lately about what I really do as a counsellor and psychotherapist. Recently, I moved over into private practice. I need referrals from GP’s and other health service professionals to get things going. They need a clear understanding of my specialty. So, it has been necessary to come up with a concise explanation of the particular issues I can assist with.

After giving it quite a bit of thought, I came up with one explanation.

And that is...

Particularly for those who have experienced loss and trauma ...

I help people deal with psychological pain.   

However, this is a pretty broad definition.

So I decided I needed to break it down further.  Which got me thinking:  What are the issues that some of my clients face that have caused them psychological pain?

So far, I’ve narrowed it down to four categories of experiences

·         Traumatic experiences

·         Loss of someone or something important to you

·         Being trapped or feeling trapped in an untenable situation

·        Carrying remorse, guilt and shame

People who come and see me don’t always fall into just one category though.

They may be experiencing some aspect of all four of these categories; sometimes all at the same time. And, this can be on top of layers of other prior painful experiences.

Generally, people seem to cope quite well with painful experiences, at least on the surface. However, it can take just one more painful, disappointing incident and the consequences spill out onto other aspects of our lives. Previous ways of coping can seem to stop working. Anger outbursts occur without warning. Concentration at work can begin fading.  All of which can feel pretty scary and confusing.  You can feel like you're falling apart, taking work and important relationships along with you.

Sometimes, psychological pain can be hidden behind other concerns, such as

·         extreme risk taking behavior,

·         addiction to alcohol or drugs,

·         extreme anxiety and panic attacks,

·         depression,

·         exacerbating nightmares and

·         chronic physical conditions

·         eating disorders and

·         causing physical self-harm such as cutting

·         sleep problems

·         feeling tense and agitated

·         fatigue and

·         difficulty concentrating


Okay, so what can you do to start to heal, rebuild and get yourself back onto the road to recovery?

  I will begin to explore the answer to this by focusing first on the aftermath of trauma.

Part One: Dealing with the Impact of a Traumatic Experience

Has something happened to you (or have you have witnessed an event) that

-      happened without much warning and/or

-       left you in a situation where you had little or no control and/or

-      had the potential to cause physical harm,

-      or caused physical damage, or pain or death and /or

-       caused you to be cut off from a source of love and/or belonging and /or sense of safety

This can include a sudden illness, operation, accident, assault and a natural disaster

If so...

don’t under estimate the impact of what you have experienced, even if other’s do, because

- you have been forced into uncharted territory where previous ways of coping do not always work so well. This can leave you feeling angry, anxious, overwhelmed and confused.

- the memory of the event can contaminate and dominate everything else you now experience, robbing you of many of the joys that life is bringing your way.

- you will now have to renegotiate a new understanding of the world as a result of the experience. This can be incredibly overwhelming and unsettling!

- whilst you were going through the experience, physiological survival mechanisms kicked in that often did not have a chance to complete. This can leave you with unresolved physical complaints.

It is important to recognize that, just as a physical wound or injury needs treatment and proper self-care, so do psychological wounds, particularly those borne of trauma. 

The pain won’t go away just because you ignore it or hope that it will. Just as with a physical wound, with proper treatment and self-care the wounds from a traumatic experience can also heal.

Be patient. The larger and deeper the wound, the more specialized the care required and the longer it it may take to heal.

 Some painful experiences are more like a major injury. Left untreated you will only end up with further complications. Yet, if anyone even lightly touches it, you can end up in such excruciating pain that it seems beyond bearing. In this situation, you need to find a gentle and understanding counsellor/therapist to complete the necessary 'surgery'. Someone, who is knowledgeable, experienced and gentle in their approach. The alternative is to try and bury the knowledge of the wound's existence; unfortunately though this can make matters worse.

I know I’ve only touched on ways of dealing with emotional and psychological pain; I hope to continue writing about this again in the future. In particular, my next blog will address self-help strategies to manage the impact of trauma.

If you would like to talk to someone about the impact of your own, or the impact of  a loved ones' traumatic event, please call or email me to make an appointment. 

Please feel free to leave comments or questions by clicking on the title and scrolling down to the bottom of the page.