The Ford Counselling and Psychotherapy Centre is currently developing a trauma focused approach to its service which it hopes to deliver gradually over the next couple of years.
This approach is linked to neurobiological research on the development of the brain in early childhood. The Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACE study 1997) demonstrated an association of adverse childhood experiences (childhood trauma) with health and social problems across the lifespan.
What is fired together is wired together
This research indicates that trauma incidents and developmental/attachment trauma have a long-term impact on the development of the brain. ‘What is fired together is wired together’. As our brain cells communicate with one-another a process of neuronal firing commences and this communication strengthens over time the more frequently these cells communicate. As these messages travel the same pathway in the brain and are repeated, they become automatic. This becomes procedural learning, for instance, like learning to ride a bicycle. Once we master the process we do it automatically each time without having to figure it out. It becomes hard wired in our brains procedurally. Negative habits can become hardwired into our brains and become difficult to shift and traumatic incidents can become trapped in our body memory repeating themselves over and over, causing great distress.
However with a trauma informed approach and the science of neuroplasticity (which means that the brain can change) we can work with clients through a combination of body based therapeutic interventions and talk therapy to re-fire new patterns of behaviour and core beliefs systems. Through repeated practice this leads to a rewiring of neuronal pathways bringing about potential for transformation in a client’s life.
Embracing Exciting New Approaches
More recent research indicates that one of the primary tasks of counselling/psychotherapy is to support the ‘activation of our clients’ social engagement system’ which helps them to self-regulate, stay within their window of tolerance and experience positive mental health.
This is in keeping with up-to-date attachment and neuroscience research around the brain/body connection and development and its impact on the type of psychotherapeutic interventions used (Stephen Porges, Dan Siegel). One of our focuses therefore at the Ford Counselling and Psychotherapy Centre is the promotion of the professional client therapist collaborative relationship for building client resources and resilience and the positive impact that this has on therapy outcomes. This is also supported by the writings and teachings of Rick Hanson and psychotherapy researchers such as John Norcross.
We are working towards developing a trauma informed response to individuals who experience levels of psychological distress in their lives. This new approach is based on current neuroscience research applied to an integration top down (talk therapy) bottom up (body-based therapy) therapeutic interventions with a view to achieving better outcomes for clients. As a consequence, we are now working on a model for continuing professional development for our therapists that will include therapeutic interventions and skills based on the writings and theories of Ron Kurtz, Pat Ogden, Janina Fisher, Bessel Van Der Kolk, Stephen Porges, Deb Dana and Kathy Steele among others.
Research also shows that an important tool in all therapy is the exploration and practise of mindful self-compassion as promoted for example, by Kirstin Neff, Christopher Germer, Paul Gilbert and Tara Brach.