“Is your coaching trauma-informed?”
This is one of the most frequently asked questions I receive. (And it tells me I’m speaking with the right calibre of woman 😉)
When we’re working with the depths of the body, we’re naturally going to discover a few of her darker secrets. The unmetabolized experiences that were too much, too soon, too fast. The frozen tensions and traumas of life.
Many of my past (and current) clients identify as suffering trauma. Racial traumas, sexual traumas and many other types and forms.
So how can we make sure we’re working with clients in trauma-aware ways? How can we make sure we do more good & less harm?
One podcast isn’t enough to answer all these questions. But we’re making a start.
In today’s podcast we’re exploring:
- A definition of trauma
- Why working with the body can reopen trauma
- The difference between trauma therapists & coaches
- Some techniques that can be re-traumatizing
- How we can work with the body to complete trauma
Resources mentioned on this podcast:
- Bessel A Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
- Feminine Embodiment Coaching Certification
Read the Full Transcript
Welcome to today’s podcast on trauma aware coaching. So the discussion around trauma embodiment and how we can work with the body and with clients in ways that aren’t going to be retraumatizing or damaging is a discussion and a topic and a question that I receive a lot. In today’s podcast, I want us to dive into why trauma needs to be a really important consideration for practitioners who work with and through the body. I also want to speak about some of the differences between coaching and trauma therapy so that we can see the appropriate place for each. I want us to speak about and to explore how this happens through our client work, as well as a few of the key considerations and how we can make sure that what we’re doing and the practices that we’re undertaking aren’t in fact retraumatizing ourselves or another person.
Now, I’m inviting you into this conversation today as a coach. So my background, my experience is feminine embodiment coaching, and this is a trauma aware way of working with clients. But I myself am not a trauma therapist. That’s not my area of specialty. So in what I’m speaking about today, this is not the final or the definitive opinion in embodied trauma aware coaching, but it is one perspective on it. I invite you as always to take what I share today and to find the language or the frameworks that might fit or might really meet what you already know to be true within you and to also use this as a conversation through which you can get curious to learn and find out more. Because in our time together today, we’ll be able to scratch the surface of this topic, but we won’t necessarily have the time or the space or the duration together to really go into the nuances of how to really practically implement this.
So I want to give you a really high level overview of what I feel are some of the key considerations and facts while appreciating this is going to be escape over the surface. So the way that this conversation comes up is that a lot of women that I speak to who are interested in coaching with others in embodied ways or maybe working within themselves or embody ways, they know that as we begin to come into the body to work with the body, we’re coming into our depths. As we enter those depths, we enter some of the darker, more disused or even abandoned parts of ourselves, those really tender and vulnerable areas. It is often in these depths, in these darker or abandoned areas that we store the unintegrated, unprocessed or incomplete previous lived experiences that we haven’t been able to fully metabolize.
Now, there are many different definitions of trauma. I want to borrow a definition from Karine Bell from the Embodied Trauma Education platform who speaks about trauma as too much, too soon or too fast. When we speak about trauma in this way, we can see that while there are many spectrums of what we might consider to be trauma, that can be the incidental or the micro traumas that go on for many different people as we go through our lives. The interactions that are too much, too soon, too fast that we don’t have the time or the capacity to process in that moment. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum where we’re speaking about racial trauma, sexual trauma and really overt traumas that can just be absolutely life altering for people.
So this spectrum and this definition of trauma is really wide, but I think we can all agree that trauma doesn’t live in our heads. Yes, it can play out in our mind, our memories, our dreams, and our thoughts, but the real root where trauma really lives, it lives in the unexpressed and the unmetabolized energy, the warehouse that is our body. So any type of embodiment work that invites you to get out of your head and go deeper into the rest of the iceberg that’s under the surface of the water, that 90% of you that exists from your neck down, all of that deep work does have the potential to meet, to unsurface, to disrupt, to erupt many of those most tender and often traumatic and triggering things that live inside the body.
While this can be something that we might be absolutely so terrified of doing, particularly as a practitioner, and that we want to be really mindful of doing safely and gradually, I think we all, well, if you’re listening to this podcast then I’m assuming that you probably do agree that this is necessary work that we want to do. What I mean by it’s necessary work is in any type of developmental work, in any type of work where we’re pursuing or moving towards a goal or a desire, where we are wanting to actualize more of our self into the world, then it is necessary for our body to be part of that equation. We can’t get where we want to go as fully actualized, fully embodied people without inhabiting our body. So if there are parts of us that are disused or abandoned or blocked off or put away, put another way, if there’s parts of us that haven’t metabolized that first intention to return it back into flow, then we want to work with that through the body.
But how we work with that is going to be very different depending on our skillset, and also depending on our goals with our clients. This brings us to the difference between coaching and therapy. So, as I said at the top of this call, I’m a feminine embodiment coach. I personally work with clients who have a functioning and a really stable, non-volatile way of operating in their day to day life and their functioning in their day to day life. But they want to do more than function. My clients, the women that I work with and the clients that I want to work with, they desire to grow. They desire to actualize their big dreams. They want to expand. They are yearning and are hungry for more richness and depth and expression and creativity in life. This is a very beautiful, beautiful body of work to be able to do with clients.
But that’s different to, let’s say, for example, trauma therapy. That’s another and different end of the spectrum. The types of clients that for example trauma therapists may choose to work with can include people who are not stable, who are not particularly functioning, who may experience volatility in their body and who are requiring support to actually find a stable, functional way to meet the symptoms of their trauma, which may fact be really overpowering. In that type of scenario, the goal or the objective of that type of work may be to tolerate and to live with their symptoms in greater harmony. That’s a very different goal and a very different perspective. I feel like it’s quite useful for us just to see that spectrum of possibility, because there is a big difference between a trauma therapist and a coach.
As a coach, I’m not the best person to work with somebody who has experienced an acute or very recent trauma. But at the same time, I know that many of my clients who are functioning quite well right now in the world and who are now looking towards that big journey of actualization, many of them may still have trauma in their past. This might be the big trauma or the little traumas. It might be the life altering trauma or the accumulation of trauma that happens from this incredibly unjust world that we live in. I’ve worked with clients who have experienced racial trauma during the period that I’ve been working with them because it’s a daily occurrence for them. I’ve worked with clients who have experienced sexual trauma in their past, and that’s not surprising given that some estimates say that more than one in every 10 women have experienced sexual trauma.
So in the hundreds and hundreds of women that I’ve worked with, I know, and many cases come to mind whereby I’ve worked with women with sexual trauma. I’ve worked with clients who have experienced trauma through grief and through loss and through life circumstance. So even though I, as a coach, am working with people from a stable functioning baseline who wants to pursue the path of growth, that doesn’t mean that I’m not working with people who are perhaps in some way may self identify as traumatized people. These clients have come to work with me through a process of screening and making sure that we’re both in agreeance, that we have common goals, common objectives, and a common appreciation for what also might come up in that container. So on a really practical level, I think it’s always really important to be in agreeance and to make sure as a practitioner that you have really clear mutually beneficial screening processes for your clients so that you can create the greatest success with them on really transparent grounds.
As a coach who’s wanting to support clients to grow and as a coach who wants to work with the body, I know that in the pursuit of my clients’ desires, there will be times, and in fact there must be times where the previous unmetabolized residues of trauma and also the previous shames and hidden parts of that client’s potential, which might be bound up and unexpressed and unexamined, there will be times that they need to be met. This is not always an easy or a comfortable conversation and experience. It’s often actually really vulnerable. I know a lot of women and a lot of practitioners, really good people who want to do good work are incredibly terrified of these moments where this unmetabolized tension comes to the surface, because we know that we need to work with them in safe ways.
There are a lot of different ways of working in the world that I believe are actually really retraumatizing for clients. In the trauma aware and the trauma informed world that I come from, a lot of my training is through the lineage of Bessel van der Kolk who is the author of the book, The Body Keeps the Score, but there’s definitely other researchers and authors that I also refer to in the work that I do. But there are many different types of practitioners that are very much interested in telling the story and coming to a place of mental understanding and thus mental acceptance of what happened. I believe this type of predominantly talk-based therapy actually has really traditional psychoanalyst based roots where there’s this idea that, if I can understand, if I can mentally name why something is so, I will be free of it.
I would suggest that that way of operating, it doesn’t always work. I can tell you, for example, you are beautiful. You are enough. You are smart. You are gorgeous. You may mentally believe that to be true. You may want at the mental dimension to absorb that and to take that in and to say, “Yeah, I am enough and I am gorgeous.” But if your body doesn’t feel the truth of it, then it’s just theory. It’s just concept. It hasn’t landed inside you as wisdom. So in the way that I work with my clients and in the model of feminine embodiment coaching, we know that in order for something to become true, it must be felt in the body. This can appear like a catch 22, because if I’ve got to feel my truth in the body, but the body is also the warehouse of all of this previously unmetabolized too much, too soon, too fast experiences, then, oh my gosh, how am I going to separate the parts that I want to feel and just not tap into the stuff that might be too much or too overwhelming?
In fact, the body doesn’t work that way. When we begin to label parts of us as unwanted or unsafe or unaccepted or unwelcome into a conversation, then all we are actually doing is further creating a divide within ourselves by saying, “That part of me is broken and it’s not good enough and it needs to be fixed and it needs to be solved.” When in fact the body is at all times doing the best job that it can to keep you safe and whole and functioning and well in the world. The fact that people may have unprocessed or unmetabolized trauma in their system is not a result of them being defective as a human. It is as a result of often inhumane things happening to them. This is something that actually we don’t want to shame a client for having and that we don’t want to avoid, but that we do want to welcome into in a really safe and in a really stable way.
One of the key things that we need to be able to know is that the way that we’re working with our clients has this safety and this stability not only built into the specific tools that we might use at those moments with our clients, but actually in the overall pervasive framework that we’re using. So how might we practically do this? Well, that’s a big conversation, but one thing that I want to leave you with today is this differentiation between head and body. Now, you and I both know that the head is just a spectrum and is part of our body, but when we kind of polarize ourselves in these ways, we can actually think about, well, if we want to approach a previous unmetabolized tension or trauma, one approach that we might take is talking about it, retelling the story, playing that movie in our minds.
I would suggest that’s actually a really damaging and a really harmful approach because as you might know, when you’re home alone on the weekend watching a scary movie and then suddenly there’s a loud crack outside your door, a lot of the times our mind has trouble distinguishing between what’s real and what’s fiction, what’s an old movie being played and what’s actually playing in our body right now. Playing these movies, retelling these stories of actual my can in some circumstances actually be really retraumatizing and re-trigger all of the same acute survival stress symptoms and stresses in a body.
Instead, what I would suggest that we want to do is to bring the wisdom of our body online. Instead of focusing on the story of our trauma, begin to focus on the sensation of what’s alive inside the body. So actually coming into contact with, as you move towards this particular goal and you notice that there’s a feeling in your body, maybe a feeling that is associated with an old tension or an old trauma, instead of telling a story about why that is the way that is and instead of playing a movie, can we, in fact, rather allow ourselves to find safety and to come into contact with that sensation, to really welcome it and to be with it in the body?
The ability for us to actually enter into vulnerability, which is a practice of emotional embodiment that we can do with our clients and with ourselves through embodiment practices, this is actually bringing our attention to the root cause. Instead of talking about the tension, we’re feeling the tension. What this does is that it allows our body to see this tension from a foundation of safety in a container that is appropriate and that is stable, and to actually to begin to unravel that tension and move it from a place of unmetabolized and frozen into more metabolized and flow. This shifting from frozen to flow is actually what is required to almost reclaim that aspect of yourself, that life force energy, and move it forward into the world and into the direction of your desires.
This is what I do with my clients. The goals and the desires that my clients set in sessions are always forward facing. There’s something more that a client wants to open into, they’re an expansion from a foundation of stability that they want to actualize. We acknowledge that we may meet some of the old traumas in their system on that path, but we’re not here as a primary goal to heal someone’s trauma. It just happens to be possibly a really useful, positive, empowering, and necessary side effect of reclaiming all the rooms, all the space that is dimension of you so that all of you can be free to flow.
So I’m curious for you. If you’re a practitioner, do you work in trauma aware ways? Do you have any questions around this topic? If you’re interested in coaching with your clients in embodied trauma aware ways, I’d invite you to check out our feminine embodiment coaching certification. This is a professional training in the art of somatic coaching for women who really want to deepen their mastery in the feminine arts. The details are at feminineembodimentcoaching.com. I’d also love to hear any of your reflections or questions around this short little podcast time that we’ve had together today. It’s been such a joy and such a treat speaking with you. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions that you might have around this. You know where to reach me. I’m over at jennaward.co.