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Updated: Nov 27, 2020


What is Trauma Anyway?


It's a word we hear all the time, but a topic that we maybe don't speak about enough. Trauma in general is an emotional and/or physical reaction to an event or ongoing experience that is beyond our ability to cope. Experiencing trauma can have long lasting effects on a person’s ability to feel safe, ability to regulate their emotions and navigate interpersonal relationships. The symptoms of trauma can be emotional and they can also be physical due to the constant triggering of the nervous system, often leading to digestive issues and sometimes chronic conditions related to stress and irregular levels of cortisol seen in trauma survivors.


Types of Trauma

  • Acute Trauma: a single incident that is completely overwhelming for us, such as a car accident, a traumatic death, a sexual assault, witnessing a violent crime, a workplace accident, or experiencing a natural disaster.

  • Complex Trauma: this occurs when a person has experienced chronic trauma over a long period of time, months and often years. It is often interpersonal (as opposed to something being witnessed or an event) and ongoing. People experiencing complex trauma usually have little or no control over their situation and are completely trapped. It can include child sexual assault, child neglect, intimate partner violence, and living in a war zone.

  • Intergenerational Trauma – is untreated pain passed down through generations. This has been seen to a devastating effect here in Canada where it’s common among children of survivors of the Canadian residential school system and their communities. This type of trauma was also noticed with children of holocaust victims. It can be seen in individual families too, when the emotional and unspoken burdens of our parents and grandparents take their toll on us.

The Four Threat Responses: Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn


Our brain, specifically our limbic system, does a great job in scanning for and responding to threats. It will activate our sympathetic nervous system to get our body ready to run (flight), to fight, or in really threatening situations it will go into freeze, by putting our slow down system or parasympathetic nervous system into overdrive. The fawn response is the last of the four trauma responses where instead of freezing, we go into an appeasing or codependent state that can leave traumatized individuals extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

When we have experienced trauma, especially trauma in our younger years, those fear responses can become very sensitive to triggers. Our brain just doesn’t recognize the difference between a trigger and a real threat and for some people they can become stuck in what seems like a permanent fear response that is often seen in folks with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Other symptoms often seen include flashbacks of the trauma, that may appear in small nonlinear fragments, as often our memory is impaired (our brain’s way of trying to protect us) at times of overwhelming emotional stress. There may be nightmares, insomnia, depression, trouble concentrating, numbness, a reliance on substances or alcohol to escape distressing thoughts, and sometimes feelings of intense shame. There is no “normal” way to react to traumatic events, they are, by their very nature, outside of our scope of understanding and the way individuals react to trauma is as unique as the experience of trauma itself.



Trauma Informed Counselling


You might have seen the phrase “trauma-informed” as you’ve scrolled through the websites of therapists (yes, including mine) but what does it actually mean? Well it’s a statement that is designed to demonstrate that as trauma counsellors we are aware of the possible emotional and physical effects of trauma and the prevalence of different types of trauma. We understand the importance of safety, the importance of figuring out exactly what safety is; and we are knowledgeable about the neurobiological impacts of trauma and we have strategies and approaches that can help with nervous system regulation. Most importantly, in my view, is that we appreciate the uniqueness of trauma, the importance of the individual experience of it, the strength of those who survive it, and the hope for better.



Reaching Out


Though it can be difficult to reach out for help, especially for trauma that happened many years ago, it is never too late to get support and never too late for healing. Trauma counselling is a process of finding safety, understanding the triggers that your nervous system reacts to and the different parts of you that have developed to try and feel safe. Those parts of you are often very young and it can take some time to build up trust and connection between you as you are now and the younger inner parts of you.

In trauma counselling, we work on this connection and we spend time finding ways to cope with distressing emotions and thoughts. For some people it can be important to openly talk about the trauma itself and for some people they would rather just work on how it affects them in the present. There is no right or wrong way – it’s whatever is needed by you and it is at whatever pace you are comfortable with. If you have any questions about trauma counselling, please get in touch with me on info@helenwhitehead.ca or visit my trauma counselling services page.

Thank you for reading.

Helen Whitehead M.C., R.C.C.

Registered Clinical Counsellor

North Vancouver, B.C.


#trauma #traumainformed #innerchild #ptsd

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

There are many definitions that exist under the LGBTQ2+ umbrella. Queer, trans, 2spirit, non-binary, lesbian, bi, and other expressions of diverse sexuality or gender identity. One thing that folk under that banner have in common is that LGBTQ2+ youth and adults in Canada have an increased risk of mental health challenges. Those challenges can include feelings of shame, suicidal ideation, anger, low self esteem, substance use, depression, and can negatively impact relationships.


The mental health disparity between the general population and LGBTQ2+ individuals is often attributed to the theory of minority stress – a term coined by Ilan Meyer in 2003 in his groundbreaking research with sexual minority populations. In explaining this theory, Meyer established four processes that included: prejudice; stigma; concealment versus disclosure; and internalized homonegativity.


Minority Stress

  1. The first process of minority stress, prejudice, includes factors such as workplace discrimination; physical or verbal harassment and assault; and systemic or institutionalized discrimination such as religious trauma or working for a company that has transphobic or homophobic policies.

  2. The second process, stigma, relates to the stress that sexual or gender minority individuals experience in their social interactions. In understanding this, it’s important to note that perceived stigma is equally as harmful as actual stigma, as this causes the minority individual to be chronically on guard for any negative interaction.

  3. Concealment versus disclosure. The third process relates to the stressors involved in concealing identity for fear of discrimination. So this could be a teenager who is bisexual but knows their friends or family wouldn’t approve, or it could be a person in their 50s who works in an environment that is not welcoming to diversity and so they keep their sexuality secret.

  4. The fourth process is internalized homonegativity/internalized transphobia. This process is possibly the most harmful of all, as it takes all the other negative factors into account and turns them inward, creating an effect where the LGBTQ2+ individual can develop an internal sense of self-hatred, low self esteem, isolation, and lack of self value.

These processes help to explain why some LGBTQ2+ folk have more mental health challenges than non-LGBTQ2+ people. In addition, though we live in a relatively tolerant country, it’s worth remembering that hate crimes against the queer community have risen dramatically in British Columbia over the last few years so those incidents of discrimination and prejudice are still happening and they can have a deeply traumatic impact.

Counselling Safety


Along with the disparity in mental wellness, LGBTQ2+ people also tend to seek less help from mental health professionals. This is thought to be due to the fear of rejection and stigma that marginalized folk experience. Can you imagine going to your first counselling session and having your therapist wrongly assume the gender of your partner? It happens, and that type of experience is exactly what stops LGBTQ2+ folk seeking help. This is also relevant for relationship counselling, as it can be challenging for people in non-traditional relationships to reach out for help. Whether it be a gay couple wanting marriage counselling, someone in a poly-amorous relationship needing help with communication, or a trans/cis couple dealing with family conflict. Everyone should be able to get the support they need without fear of being judged or treated in any way other than with care, respect and with empathy. Everyone deserves to feel safe.


Working with Queer Clients


Counselling for LGBTQ2+ clients often includes talking about identity, the coming out process, family of origin beliefs, and personal experiences of stigma and of course, resilience and strength. It can also include work around confidence building, processing trauma, establishing a sense of self and finding ways to connect to and create community. In other words – building Pride in identity.

If you are LGBTQ2+ in B.C. and are needing some mental health support, or are starting to question your identity and would like to talk to a therapist, you are welcome to contact me. My office is based in North Vancouver but I also offer online counselling to people across British Columbia. As a member of the community myself, I am dedicated to supporting other LGBTQ2+ folks in whatever struggle you are going through. If you are unable to pay for mental health support, or don’t have extended health, Qmunity have a great free counselling program you can read about here: https://qmunity.ca/get-support/counselling/


If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me: info@helenwhitehead.ca or visit my services page to read more.


Thanks for reading 😊

Helen Whitehead M.C., R.C.C.

Registered Clinical Counsellor

North Vancouver, B.C.

#minoritystress #queercounselling #lgbtq #pride #gayfriendly #loveislove #selfdiscoverycounselling

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

You may have heard the words inner child used in a variety of ways, perhaps you’ve seen the hashtag #innerchild next to a picture of someone engaging in a fun activity, perhaps you’ve done some inner child work in counselling sessions, or perhaps you’ve rolled your eyes as you’ve scrolled past articles just like this one telling you why your inner child is a pretty big deal. Keep reading!

The way I like to explain it is that your inner child is the you that existed before the world taught you not to be yourself. The you that existed before your inner critic came along and told you that you’d be judged, judged by your peers, by society, and of course by social media. Wanting to connect with your inner child doesn’t make you immature or in any way unusual. It’s a super healthy thing to do and can be a way of remembering how to have fun and express ourselves creatively. For some people however, it can be much more than that.


For people who experienced trauma as a young person, their inner child may be still driving much of their distress. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed since you experienced hurt, trauma or abandonment - your younger self is still inside you and often when we have a strong (or what seems irrational) emotional reaction to a situation, one of our younger parts is in the driving seat and they are reacting because there is something about this situation that reminds them of a time they were hurt, felt pain, or felt helpless. Our younger self reminds our brain of that previous emotional pain and our limbic system, our threat detection system, reacts the only way it knows how - fight, flight, freeze, fawn. This inner child part is hyper sensitive to possible threats and was perhaps not listened to, or not believed and was maybe even pushed aside by you so that your “getting on with life” part could take over and get through whatever was happening.


If this is familiar to you, then next time you feel that emotional reaction to something, instead of negatively judging those reactions, be curious about them and ask yourself how old that part of you is and what might that part of you be trying to protect you from or be sensitive to? Take some time to acknowledge your younger self, imagine them with you and let them know you’re here to keep them safe, something perhaps no-one could do for you years ago. If they don’t listen then keep trying, imagine them as a scared little child in front of you, if they don't listen to you at first will you walk away, or will you keep trying to comfort them? After all, that child is you.


To try and build that connection, remember and list the ways that you would feel and show joy as a child. Be creative, try writing with your non-dominant hand, painting, eating messy food with your fingers, pull faces in the mirror, make animal noises, do anything that you could imagine a child would enjoy and see if you can make that connection to your own younger self. Or if the world was too threatening for you when you were small, imagine ways you might have expressed yourself if it had been safe to. Think about writing a letter to your inner child, what would you say to them? What would you want them to know?

Be curious, be compassionate and allow your younger self to shine through. It’s important for them to know that you can still feel them there.

If you have any questions about this or any other aspect of counselling please email me info@helenwhitehead.ca or visit my website: https://www.helenwhitehead.ca/services-rates


Thanks for reading :)

Helen Whitehead

North Vancouver, BC

Registered Clinical Counsellor


#innerchild #trauma #selfdiscoverycounselling

thoughts from a north vancouver counsellor

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Helen Whitehead

Registered Clinical Counsellor

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