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What is Trauma?

Trauma is a word that that refers to a spectrum of diagnosis; the most well known being Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However broadly speaking, Trauma refers to a single or series of events that happened in the past that continue to affect us negatively for a long time afterwards. Trauma and traumatic experiences result from highly stressful events that shatter a person’s sense of safety, security and serenity. In many cases, trauma renders one helpless and vulnerable or hardened and volatile in a world perceived as dangerous.

Some of the most well known symptoms of a traumatic experience can be: Panic attacks, constant background anxiety, nightmares, a constant sense of shame, or sense of numbness or spacing out.

Traumatic experiences entail a threat to life or overall well-being, but any situation that leaves a person feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. It’s not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic, but one’s interpretation of the event. The more anxious, panicky or paralyzed a person feels, the more likely the persona has been traumatized.

The difference between PTSD and a normal response to trauma

Traumatic events that lead to post-traumatic stress disorder are usually so overwhelming and frightening that they would upset anyone. Often times after experiencing a traumatic event, we are in shock or a state of disbelief and may not even realize the effect. We often tend to minimize such experiences in order to cope and carry on with our lives. The realization of the effects of a trauma tend to come much later. However, when your sense of safety and trust are shattered, it’s normal to feel crazy, disconnected, or numb. It’s very common to have bad dreams, feel fearful, and find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened. These are normal reactions to abnormal events.

For most people, however, these symptoms are short-lived. A lot of people experience post-traumatic stress symptoms. They may last for several days or even weeks, but they gradually lift. But if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the symptoms don’t decrease. You don’t feel a little better each day. In fact, you may start to feel worse.

After a traumatic experience, the mind and the body are in shock. But as you make sense of what happened and process your emotions, you come out of it. With post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, you remain in psychological shock. Your memory of what happened and your feelings about it are disconnected. In order to move on, it’s important to face and feel your memories and emotions.

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time. Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell.

Why talk therapy alone doesn’t work when treating trauma?


“From my vantage point as a researcher, we know that the impact of trauma is upon the survival or animal part of the brain. That means that our automatic danger signals are disturbed, and we become hyper- or hypo-active: aroused or numbed out. We become like frightened animals. We cannot reason ourselves out of being frightened or upset”.

“Of course, talking can be very helpful in acknowledging the reality about what’s happened and how it’s affected you, but talking about it doesn’t put it behind you because it doesn’t go deep enough into the survival brain”.

–  Dr.Bessel Van der Kolk; Author of, “The Body Keeps the Score” and currently considered the foremost expert on psychological trauma in the world.


What is Dissociation?

Dissociation is a big word for spacing out. Dissociation is often used by therapists to refer to a person who is unable to stay present to their emotions. Dissociation is a very complex defense mechanism as it evolves through living with years of chronic painful experiences. For example, when I was a child I grew up with a very angry mother. She was not just angry, she was rageful. She would rage about something every single day. I learned very quickly in the first 10 years of my life to avoid her rages; Yet sometimes I had to be in the pathway of her rages regardless of what I wanted.  In order to feel like I could survive through these rages I would have to look away from her and go some other place in my mind. I would have to be present enough to hear her, in case she asked me a question, but I would also check out enough that I didn’t have to be there with her and feel what was happening because it was so scary. If I could, I would play with a toy while she was so angry.

Dissociation is an unconscious defense mechanism. This means that it happens the majority the time without conscious or thoughtful choice. This may seem confusing, but it can be made much more experientially clear to us through understanding the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the opposite of dissociation. Mindfulness is a noncritical, objective state of self observation. Observing oneself as one is without negative or positive evaluations about what one is observing. In the state of mindfulness one is completely consciously aware of what one is observing. One is so aware that concentration is present in order to maintain awareness.

Dissociation in contrast is to habitually try, at some level to space out and forget what is really going on with oneself. Often when driving in a car listening to music while stuck in traffic, for example, we may fantasize with the music we are listening to about being some other place other than traffic. There are varying degrees of dissociation. Everyone dissociates to a degree, in other words we all space out now and then. Whether it’s watching TV or sometimes ignoring someone really unpleasant. However with people who have trauma, dissociation can become a debilitating habit. So much so that most people who have some form of complex trauma or long-term PTSD have received diagnosis such as ADD or ADHD. This is common because dissociation looks like ADD. However when a person needs to dissociate just to survive, one learns how to space out to survive not because of a biological malfunction. In fact, we might need to become very focused at work, but when we come home we need to space out in order to survive the attacks that we fear will come.

Anyone who has trauma struggles with some level of dissociation, however the extreme end of this is what is known as a dissociative disorder. Someone who has a dissociative disorder will sometimes experience what is called, dissociative amnesia. Dissociative amnesia refers to periods of memory loss. This is also sometimes experienced as time loss. In other words, later this evening you’re having dinner and you realize that you don’t recall anything at all about what you did before dinner. It’s sort of like a blackout but without drugs or alcohol.

What are the symptoms of dissociative amnesia?

There are three types, or patterns, of dissociative amnesia:

  • Localized: Memory loss affects specific areas of knowledge or parts of a person’s life, such as a certain period during childhood, or anything about a friend or coworker. Often the memory loss focuses on a specific trauma. For example, a crime victim may have no memory of being robbed at gunpoint, but can recall details from the rest of that day.
  • Generalized: Memory loss affects major parts of a person’s life and/or identity, such as a young woman being unable to recognize her name, job, family, and friends.
  • Fugue: With dissociative fugue, the person has generalized amnesia and adopts a new identity. For example, one middle manager was passed over for promotion. He did not come home from work and was reported as missing by his family. He was found a week later, 600 miles away, living under a different name, working as a short-order cook. When found by the police, he could not recognize any family member, friend, or coworker, and he could not say who he was or explain his lack of identification.

Dissociative amnesia is different from amnesia caused by medical problems, such as illnesses, strokes, or brain injuries. In medically caused amnesia, recovering memories is rare and generally a slow and gradual process.

Most cases of dissociative amnesia are relatively short. Often, when memories return, they do so suddenly and completely. Memory recovery may happen on its own, after being triggered by something in the person’s surroundings, or in therapy.

A person who experiences a dissociative fugue often has the most extreme forms of dissociation called dissociative identity disorder. You could read more about this in the section called how we work, under specialties.

What is Complex Trauma?

Complex trauma refers to someone who has not just experienced traumatic experiences as an adult, but has numerous traumatic experiences throughout their life. These past experiences will of course, affect the way we structure perception of our world. And growing up with repeated traumatic experiences creates a person who lives in a defensive manner habitually, and often continues to believe that living defensively is the best and only way to live. This philosophy shows itself problematic however always in personal or intimate relationships if the person can even maintain them.

A person with complex trauma often feels a sense of constant anxiety and/ or shame in the background of their psyche. Childhood trauma refers to what mental health professionals call attachment trauma. This means that growing up, we learned that the world is a dark and untrustworthy place through sequential occurrences of painful or scary experiences. This would include one or more of the following: emotional abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, physical abuse, witnessing domestic violence, religious abuse, and generally just living in constant vigilance to try to protect ourselves from the next scary or confusing event. These experiences are chronic and begin in early childhood.

Complex psychological trauma involves multiple repetitive psychological stressors. Most adults who have complex trauma report harm coming from people in their lives who were supposed to be the ones they could trust the most, caregivers; mothers, fathers, grandparents, etc. The result of years of chronic neglect or abuse is a feeling of disconnection from life, difficulty trusting and connecting with others, difficulties setting boundaries with others.  In some cases, it can also mean that we continue to seek out relationships with people who misuse or abuse us.

People with complex trauma are most often those that have been given multiple diagnosis along the road of their life, along with PTSD. So if a person has grown up seeing therapists and had each therapist give different diagnosis like depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc.; often underneath these real observations and diagnosis is layers of trauma. And when you live with complex trauma usually all the energy of your life ends up being used to help you just… cope. It feels hard day to day to just manage emotions.

One of the differences between complex trauma and PTSD is that it involves childhood or happens during our developmental years (0-18). As well, adult PTSD is also not always necessarily personal. Fighting in war may not feel personal for all marines or soldiers. Surviving a boating accident or surgical mistake may be terrifying but not feel like a personal attack on the core of our self. Trauma that happens during our formative years with our primary caregivers always feels personal. This is why it is referred to as attachment trauma. Complex trauma usually means that, we have both childhood and adult trauma together.

What are the differences between normal talk therapy and Somatic therapy?

All of the therapists associated with Seattle trauma counseling work dominantly as Somatic therapists. We believe it is the most effective way to treat trauma. Please have a look through the section on our site called Methodologies. This section explains each in great detail methods that we use in the treatment of trauma.

What is Somatic therapy? To explain this, lets have a look at the differences between normal talk therapy, aka, psychotherapy or counseling and Somatic therapy.

Psychotherapy or talk therapy

Psychotherapy is a form of psychological treatment in which great emphasis is placed on providing a safe, non-judgmental relationship in which to explore issues pertaining to mental health and problems of daily life through talking. The Psychotherapeutic relationship provides specific theories and techniques embedded into methods of empathy, acceptance and designed to facilitate the appropriate inner psychological states so that people can grow and develop in ways which may not have been possible earlier in their lives. Psychotherapy is a research-evaluated method based upon talking about our pasts, and discovering how our present perceptions and behaviors are conditioned by our experiences in the past. Psychodynamic forms of therapy are dominantly about using talking and theoretically work by using verbal reflections to increase awareness thereby gradually helping to decrease symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral therapy works by changing people’s attitudes and behavior through focusing on the thoughts, images, beliefs and attitudes that are held, (a person’s cognitive processes) and how these processes relate to the way a person behaves, as a way of dealing with emotional problems. This is the most popular form of talk therapy.

While talk therapy can be very helpful with various types of psychological issues, most modern research on trauma suggests that talk therapy may actually make trauma symptoms worsen. The reason for this is that telling the story of trauma over and over again, as in the case of exposure therapy, for example, may tend to actually amplify the feelings associated with the stories of the past. i.e. every time I have to tell my therapist the story of the trauma, I have to relive the whole thing all over again. There is growing evidence showing that this can reinforce the very symptoms we are seeking relief from.

Somatic Psychotherapy

Although situated in the broad family of psychotherapeutic treatments, Somatic Psychotherapy is a unique discipline. Soma is a Greek word meaning “the living body”; therefore Somatic Psychotherapy adds a significant dimension to verbal psychotherapy by including bodily experience as correlative to the psychological experience. Somatic Psychotherapy is grounded in the belief that not only are thought, emotion and bodily experience inextricably linked, but also that change can be brought about in one domain of experience by mindfully accessing another.

“The brain and the body are parts of a common interactive system. Any outside stimulus or input to the brain must first be registered by the sensory organ systems of the body, and the brain relies on the body to provide all information having to do with function in general, not just survival. What’s happening in the body continuously changes the brain. The flip side of this relationship is that the brain, in response, also directs and changes the body. Learning of a motor skill by the brain is dependent on the body’s ability to adapt and respond to feedback messages from the brain that direct the somatic musculature. The muscles of the viscera—the organs of the chest and abdomen—also operate through messages from the autonomic nervous system that are generated by the brain, while the sensory messages from these visceral organs inform the brain about one’s emotional well-being. The relative health of the brain depends on the health of the body, and vice versa. If trauma has adversely affected either one, you’ve got to find a means of healing that incorporates both brain and body. You can’t fix one without fixing the other”.     -Dr. Robert Scaer; Author of The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation, and Disease.

Somatic Psychotherapy integrates the use of body-based methods with the practice of mindfulness. The method of Mindfulness is intimately connected to the work of somatic psychotherapy. Mindfulness is an ancient psychological practice that has recently been incorporated into modern therapeutic techniques. Mindfulness refers to a non-critical state of self-observation. It is a non-judgmental state of consciousness that allows a person to experience themselves in a new way. It allows conscious awareness to become separate from thoughts, feelings,and mental evaluations. Methods of Somatic Psychotherapy are difficult to explain or define as they are by their very nature, highly experiential. They are techniques involving the direct conscious experience of your own body in relationship to the traumatic events we are seeking to overcome and release.

The work of somatic psychology is guided by several philosophies and more recently by research in Infant Development, Neurobiology, and Attachment theories. Most notably somatic psychotherapy as a way of treating trauma is based upon the writings and research of:

  • Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk; Author of The Body keeps the score.
  • Dr. Stephen Porges; founder of the Polyvagal Theory.
  • Dr.Robert Scaer; Author of The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation, and Disease.
  • Pat Ogden; Author of Trauma and the Body
  • Kathy Steele, Suzette Boon, Onno van der Hart Ph.D. ; Authors of Treating Trauma-Related Dissociation.
  • Dr.Judith Herman; Author of Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror.
  • There are numerous other authors and researchers we have not included here who have contributed to this field and we hope you will research this further on your own.

We can help you if you are struggling with any of the following:

  • Panic Attacks: large or small we can help you stop having them.
  • Anxiety Disorders: Phobias, excessive worry, feeling judged, general anxiety, obsessive thinking
  • Relationship Problems: Couples and Marriage counseling with direction- not just coming to fight in a session
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Nightmares and Flashbacks. We can help you to stop chronic nightmares without the use of psychiatric medications.
  • Military and Combat-Related Trauma or Marriage Issues
  • Law Enforcement and Firefighter Traumatic Stress.
  • Depersonalization-Derealization: You feel unreal, its difficult to connect to others and life. You have a hard time feeling your body.
  • Complex Trauma: which is the result of both childhood trauma and adult PTSD
  • Sexual Trauma and/or Addictions to Sex, Pornography or Relationships
  • Cheating, Real or Emotional affairs.
  • Religious Trauma:  We specialize in work with; 7th day Adventists; Mormons; Jehovah Witnesses; Muslims; Scientologists; Children of God; Sexual Trauma related to the Catholic Church; Religious leaders- Pastors; Priests and nuns. We do not seek to judge, rather we seek to honor each person’s religious beliefs and experiences in the work we do.
  • Stockholm Syndrome or the experience of Torture
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder: (also known as Multiple Personality Disorder) We have extensive knowledge, training and experience on how to work with this issue. We respect all systems and parts and do not seek to get rid of parts.
  • Cross Cultural Issues: we provide support for people with intercultural adjustment difficulties related to the experience of living abroad. Depression related to cultural adjustment. Sensitive to Expat issues.
  • Third Culture Kids (TCK’s) are the children of expatriates who live in a foreign country for their work. Often growing up having to move and adapt to other cultures brings with it unique issues and depression.
  • Process Addictions: Gambling, Video Games, Shopping, Hoarding, Workaholics.

How We Work

We help people in the surrounding areas of Seattle, as well as those in other parts of the world, work through issues that are causing them great pain, or holding them back in life. We offer In Person and Online Counseling.  Many of our clients report having been to a number of therapists before us, and have found that we offer them unique practices, perspectives and help that others have not provided.


We want to provide all our clients with proven and researched methods that assist you in changing your inner state from one of anxiety, to one of calmness. This section will introduce you and provide explanations of the different trauma therapies that are available to you through Seattle trauma counseling therapists.


Would you like to know more about different disorders or conditions? Here we provide you with current articles, research, and trends in the mental health field to help inform and help guide us in therapy together.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here you will find information answering questions about how we structure our work with you, fees, online and in person counseling, as well required forms for beginning work with us.

Who We Are

All of our counselors are experienced in techniques for helping you learn about and deal with your trauma.

Find someone who can help you.


Guided Practices

We want to provide all our clients with proven and researched meditation and visualization practices that you can use at any time, and at any place. By using these on a daily basis, your can calm your body and mind and become more centered.

Books We Recommend

This link takes you to a list of books we’ve found helpful for those looking for helpful reading on the topics of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma in general. As you consider these recommendations, keep in mind that everyone is different. If you’re unsure, Ask your counselor for a recommendation.

Crisis Management

We really want to be of help but cannot be available 24 hours a day. This page will walk you through the steps you should take if you are in crisis and cannot wait for us to call you back and schedule a regular appointment.

Contact Us

New clients please fill out the form below and we will contact you shortly. All information you provide is safe and confidential.  We never sell, trade, or rent your contact information for any reason.  Please provide us with any important details about the nature of your visit so we can best serve you when you attend your first appointment.

    Veronica Paige: (206) 552-8207

    Wendy Flores:    (206) 466-8336

    Joshua Canady: (206) 388-5131

    Rebecca Barrett (360) 301 8033

    Robert Espiau      (253) 393-3251

    Robert’s International Thailand

    +66 99 293 5807

    Robert can also be texted on Signal