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Psychologists of Trauma Therapy Program guide recovery in clients and educate peers

February  23, 2015

Carrie Clark, PsyDAt the Trauma Therapy Program at Women’s College Hospital (WCH), clients are considered the experts.

Though the program is backed by a strong inter-professional team – which includes psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health therapists, social workers, creative arts therapists, occupational therapists and nurses – clients are viewed as the true experts of their own experiences.

“When a client first enters this program, we ask them ‘what is it that we should know about you?’ The team can suggest a number of treatments and interventions – but we want to hear from the client first,” said Carrie Clark, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with the program.

Psychologists are another group of experts that play an important role in an individual’s recovery process. These professionals use a clinical lens to understand and assess mental health and behaviour.

Through individualized appointments and group therapy sessions, psychologists (as well as other professionals on the team) guide clients in establishing a sense of safety, addressing past trauma and healing.

“There is a misconception that recovery is achieved by speaking about all of your experiences with trauma, all at once,” said Clark. “Recovery is not that simple. Survivors first need to develop the necessary tools and skills so that they can go forward and truly deal with the past. Every individual needs to set a pace that feels right.”

Recounting traumatic events without feeling safe or prepared can often re-traumatize a client. To prevent re-traumatization and support other care providers who do not specialize in trauma therapy, Clark and fellow WCH clinical psychologist Catherine Classen, PhD, (with others) recently published a new book, Treating the Trauma Survivor: An Essential Guide to Trauma-Informed Care. The book offers practical tools and strategies for care providers.

“I’m always interested in opportunities where I can share my knowledge, as a clinical psychologist, with other care providers so that they are equipped with supporting survivors of trauma,” said Clark. “Psychologists are just one group of experts in the trauma therapy team — we have so many professionals with diverse experiences and backgrounds.  It’s a rich environment where we can all learn from each other.” 

Along with others from WCH’s Trauma Therapy Program, Clark and Classen also organize the biannual Trauma Talks conference. At these meetings, the psychologists and their colleagues discuss best practices for trauma-informed care, with other care providers who might have limited experience or knowledge in this area.

In addition to individual therapy sessions and academic pursuits, the psychologists of the Trauma Therapy Program also lead group therapy sessions. For instance, Clark is currently running a group session that focuses on the residual impacts of trauma on the body and explores how clients can reconnect with their bodies, in a healthy way. The program also offers other group sessions, including the Women Recovering from Abuse Program (WRAP) group.

“We focus on creating a safe space in this program,” said Clark. “We want clients to feel safe in the world, with us, and ultimately, within themselves.”

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