What is trauma?
Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that leaves emotional, psychological and physiological effects. It is the result of a single experience or repeated experiences that overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope or integrate the ideas and emotions involved in that experience.
Many people we know and interact with are dealing with the ongoing effects of past and present trauma. To put it in context, in Australia alone, 1 in 4 women are victims of domestic violence, 1 in 5 women are victims of sexual violence1, and 1 in 10 children were victims of sexual abuse2. Although emotional, physical and sexual trauma have such a high prevalence, it is widely hidden in our society often due to shame. However despite the large numbers of people affected, many of us often don’t think that the person we are meeting or speaking with may have experienced trauma.
Studies3 have shown a strong association between exposure to early life traumatic events and the development of diverse chronic health conditions across a person’s lifespan, such as sexual, bladder and pelvic pain and even overactive bladder. Trauma can also affect the way that people approach relationships (even helpful ones). This is often because survivors feel unsafe and lack trust or are fearful. Becoming trauma-informed is about supporting people to feel safe to build trust, and help people develop good physical and emotional health and resilience.
What is trauma-informed physiotherapy?
Physiotherapy interventions that understand the complex impacts trauma can have on a person’s well-being. Trauma-informed care appreciates how a person’s life history may have impacted their development, their behaviours, and their current situation.
Trauma-informed practice revolves around 5 key principles:
- Safety – Your Alana Physiotherapist will create a therapeutic environment in which you feel safe (physically and emotionally), respected, validated and understood.
- Trustworthiness – It is often hard for survivors of trauma to trust people, and touch can be very difficult, particularly for survivors of physical or sexual abuse. Your Alana Physiotherapist will work with you to develop a trusting relationship prior to undertaking any physical treatments.
- Choice – Your choice and control is paramount. Decisions about your treatment plan are not made for you, but with you.
- Collaboration – Treatment effects are maximised by working with what you are already doing/knowing what works best for you
- Empowerment – Your Alana Physiotherapist will prioritise treatments that empower and build your skills in managing your own health.
Pelvic floor physiotherapists can see people who have suffered birth trauma, rape or sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, and physical or domestic violence. Trauma-informed physiotherapy understands how stress systems (like muscle spasm and pain) are affected by prior experiences and will be sensitive to this during your assessment and treatment. With experience, compassion and understanding your physiotherapist will work with you to help you overcome the physical symptoms related to these traumatic events. We believe in you and support you in your healing process.
For anyone who has suffered trauma, who is supporting someone through trauma, or would like to know more about trauma-informed care, the following resources may be helpful:
- The Blue Knot Foundation https://www.blueknot.org.au/. The Alana Physiotherapists work under the Blue Knot Foundation’s ‘Practice Guidelines for Treatment of Complex Trauma and Trauma Informed Care’ (2019)
- White Ribbon Australia https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/
- Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia https://www.rape-dvservices.org.au/
- Lifeline Australia https://www.lifeline.org.au/
- ReachOut Australia (for under 25s) https://au.reachout.com
- Personal Safety, Australia, 2016. Australian Bureau of Statistics. https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4906.0
- Personal Safety, Australia, 2016. Australian Bureau of Statistics. https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4906.0~2016~Main%20Features~Experience%20of%20Abuse%20before%20the%20age%20of%2015~27
- Zarse, E., Neff, M., Yoder, R., Hulvershorn, L., Chambers, J., &Chambers, A. (2019) ‘The adverse childhood experiences questionnaire: Two decades of research on childhood trauma as a primary cause of adult mental illness, addiction, and medical diseases’, Cogent medicine, 6 (1).