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A therapist in Santa Clarita explains how to understand trauma symptoms and support loved ones who experience trauma related symptoms.

In a recent interview, Kristina de Bree, a Santa Clarita therapist and LFMT, described strategies for understanding trauma and for healthily and helpfully communicating with trauma survivors.

de Bree stressed that trauma is similar to a physical ailment, in that it changes the way the body and brain react in stressful situations. “Just like if you were driving a car and the wheel alignment of the car is off, it would be like your central nervous system is veering left or veering right.”

Related: Santa Clarita Therapist Discusses Helping Friends In Times Of Crisis

This lack of alignment in the central nervous system can cause trauma survivors to experience new events through the lens of past, traumatic events. Even small problems can seem enormous and threatening in light of this imbalance in the central nervous system, de Bree explained.

The Santa Clarita therapist used ants as a metaphorical example of a small problem, and metaphorically used bears as a substitute for larger, more terrifying situations.

“If you see someone freaking out about an ant, don’t say, ‘What’s the matter with you; it’s just an ant,’ or, ‘stop being dramatic,’” de Bree explained. “You want to say, ‘Okay, I know that that seems scary. It’s an ant. I’m here for you. I’m here to protect you.’”

Another common point of stress for trauma survivors involves uncertainty in new situations. de Bree explained that a set schedule or routine can be vital for making trauma survivors feel safe.

“Anything that goes outside of the norm is really scary, and that’s because the central nervous system is totally off, that it’s hard to interpret incoming things,” the Santa Clarita therapist explained.

Returning to the bear analogy, de Bree said that trauma survivors often view uncertainty in new situations as an opportunity for “bears” that may strike at any moment. This can feel overwhelming and cause trauma survivors immense stress, de Bree explained. “If you think that bears are chasing you all day long that’s going to be scary.”

For this reason, de Bree suggested loved ones try to understand and be patient when trauma survivors are hesitant to break from their daily routine to try something new, and instead work with them to come up with activities that allow trauma survivors to feel comfortable in a stable environment.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Santa Clarita therapist stressed the importance of listening empathetically to trauma survivors when they open up about their traumatic experiences and emotions triggered by past trauma.

“Don’t say ‘at least’ and don’t say ‘but,’” de Bree advised. “If you are saying those two phrases, you are probably not being empathetic.”

For instance, when loved ones say “I’m feeling sad,” de Bree suggested listeners acknowledge their emotions without deflecting. Instead of pointing out all the good things in their loved one’s life and all the reasons they have to be happy, de Bree suggests telling their loved one that they understand that they’re hurting and then working with them to find ways to help regulate their mood.

“You don’t want to shame them,” the Santa Clarita therapist said. Instead, you can offer calming activities. “Let’s take some calm, deep breaths in and out together. Let’s go for a walk. Let’s have a drink of water. Let’s look into some music. Let’s change the subject.”

Alongside trauma therapy, this kind of supportive environment can help those suffering from past trauma to heal and move forward in their lives.

“There are a lot of things that we have to live with, but trauma is not one of them,” explained de Bree. “There are a lot of wonderful options available … that can completely eradicate the effects of trauma.”

For more information on available therapy treatments, de Bree offers a free 15-minute phone consultation to those seeking guidance and resources. Interested parties can contact the Santa Clarita therapist through her website or via phone at (661) 513-4857.