One of the big challenges I face with clients is using the word “trauma” in counseling. to explain a body of work, now a classification for a type of counseling service provided. 

Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience,” and also relates to medicine in terms of a “physical injury.” The problem is most of my clients don’t classify things that happened to them as deeply disturbing due to defense mechanisms, or because they just didn’t know that something that happened to them was so impactful due to lack of information thereof. 

They are certainly thrown off by images of medical “trauma” and don’t relate or consider certain modalities because of this reference. 

A typical client for example, could have attachment issues from childhood and may not automatically label this experience as “trauma”. I have reworked this word into a more palatable constructs and tried to describe it as “anywhere you are feeling stuck”. 

While not eloquent, I often get more connection from clients with the powerful work that can be done with EMDR, SE, or Neurofeedback for a client who may have a simple phobia, work stress, attachment issues, performance issues with sports or work, or even just a desire to grow in their awareness of themselves. 

These powerful tools can and should of course be used for less critical situations — than those involving complex trauma, although this is where their popularity seems to currently rest. Clients with trauma may need help identifying their experiences as impactful. What a word represents does seem to matter when clients are exploring what services to use. 

Traditional talk therapy may be able to be replaced or used with these cutting edge “trauma” modalities to find better results. Many of the places clients find themselves stuck seem to be found in reptilian parts of our brain that tend to be hidden from our conscious abilities to change them with conversation or traditional CBT. Several of the trauma modalities can work well on this reptilian part of our brain. 

Clients who do identify themselves as trauma survivors or knowingly want to do trauma work deserve a well honored and appreciated seat at the table, though may need some thorough rethinking to widen the net for the many uses of these life changing techniques.

While I have not solved this riddle yet, perhaps there may be a new language to accompany traditional trauma work. Such centering on the wording that identifies the frustrating looping effect we can get from just about anything where we feel stuck or frozen. 

Educating clients on what is meant by trauma and when necessary, changing out the word trauma for a less dramatic feel seems to do the trick. 

This conversation is meant to be academic and create a point for discussion and learning. I welcome thoughtful feedback on the conversation as well all continue to learn and grow.

Kimberly Miller, LCSW,LISAC is an EMDR trained, Advanced Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, Addiction/Mental Health/Trauma Trained Counselor, Certified Life Coach, and Blog Writer working in private practice in St. Louis Missouri.