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“Why is trauma education important, and what does it have to do with worklessness?”

Traumatised people live in a world that's different from people who have not been traumatised. …….………….deeply traumatic experiences literally re-arrange the brain’s wiring……………. people lose touch with their current environment and go into survival mode…………when people remembered their trauma, their frontal lobe basically went offline, the speech centre of their brains disappeared, and the survival part of the brain lit up……………. In fact, the brain is changed to the point that you keep reacting to all kinds of situations that are pretty neutral to other people, as if you are in danger.’

Bessel van der Kolk" (Psychiatrist - Boston Trauma Centre Director)

So – what exactly is Trauma?

A car accident or broken limb is considered a Traumatic experience by virtually all people - but many other life events are traumatic to us…….losing a job, losing your shift allowance, going for job interviews – they can all be traumatic experiences to someone.

Trauma is defined as “Any negative life event that occurs in a position of relative helplessness

(Definition of Trauma championed by renowned Neurologist, Traumatologist, Author and International Speaker, Robert Scaer, MD)

The meaning of helplessness is "unable to defend oneself or to act without help, deprived of strength or power, unable to take control".

For example, many people feel completely out of control when they need to find a new job - whether they have an injury or not! Helplessness is very much an individual experience – what makes a person feel out of control varies widely from person to person – so we can never assume we know the degree to which someone is feeling traumatised by an experience. That’s where a person centred, individualised approach will always bring better experiences of recovery and better outcomes – we actually identify a person’s triggers events and assist them to manage them with this approach.

Consider how often injured persons are in a state of helplessness. How often does an injured person feel they have no control over what is happening to them?

Lets walk through my Ladder of Fear to appreciate how Fear, and the resulting negative emotions can ’build’ for an injured person (this is an illustrative example, the actual FEAR components will vary from person to person).

  1. FEAR is cumulative – and the result of a trauma experience.

  2. FEAR results in a ‘fight or flight or freeze’ response (F-F-F). Most likely it’s going to be initiated when our primitive need for ‘Safety’ or ‘Protection’ is threatened. The fear response is almost entirely autonomic.

  3. FEAR then impacts behaviour/language/body language/choices and decisions.

  4. FEARS get laid down in memory – so when we get confronted by something that reminds us of an earlier threat – the fight/flight/freeze can be triggered in us, as the emotions(limbic) system recognises it and goes into the F-F-F response mode.

  5. Someone may start saying and doing things that are detrimental to their recovery and RTW as a response to FEAR – it’s a self-protective response that in fact is often counterproductive to them. If people are better equipped to manage FEAR they may be able to avoid many of the counterproductive responses and negative mental health injuries that arise as a result of the traumas they experience.

Breaking the FEAR cycle

Because our FEAR response is entirely autonomic and because there is so much out there for injured persons to FEAR, triggering those autonomic responses, we have to actively, deliberately, focus on spending time being in the present and self-calming.

1. Good news is that we can break the escalation of FEAR – by learning to manage and control it.

2. We need to teach the skills for managing FEAR (which is learning how to manage emotions) so we have some degree of control in life and are better equipped to manage our emotions and mental health

Sadly – when you are in the compensation system – there is virtually always a degree of threat being experienced, someone else is always able to make a decision that threatens your safety (whether the threat is real or not) – so an injured person is very likely to mostly to be in a state of F-F-F– which then impacts their physical recovery, pain management and ability to think rationally.

We simply cant take a person who is currently experiencing trauma, and whose brain is in survival mode (F-F-F) and expect them to think rationally and make decisions, set goals and effectively plan, train or learn. We firstly have to assist them to manage the F-F-F responses and resulting negative emotions that arise from experiencing multiple traumas, so they can engage rational thinking to experience more personally productive behaviours and outcomes.

We are literally putting the cart before the horse with the approach to RTW that has been taken historically by rushing into planning mode – only by assisting to firstly reduce the trauma experience for injured persons, and teaching the skills of emotional self-calming and self-management can we be in a psychological state to think rationally and make productive decisions about life and returning to work. Once we change the experience for injured persons, and reduce the trauma, we can truly substantially reduce worklessness.

If this resonates for you - and you want to learn more about the THRIVE Program please dont hesitate to contact me

( THRIVE - an emotional remediation program - “understanding the trauma experience and reducing its impact on worklessness”. A Program about EI and resilience, well-being and decision making. A personal transformation program that develops core emotional intelligence and improves an individual’s resilience, well-being, leadership, inter-personal impact, influence and decision making)

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