A Systemic Approach to Trauma


I believe that by strengthening, building and maintaining a healthy support system for trauma survivors that the capacity to heal will improve. We cannot heal in isolation.

In my counselling practice, I blend my background, working with systemic theories; and my experience, working with those who have survived trauma. My intention is to focus on relationships following trauma to improve recovery. I am passionate about the idea of creating strong systems that can better support themselves. I believe our professional systems will be so much more effective if the natural support systems are strong and enhancing the ongoing recovery from trauma. With strong and functioning relationships, we can tackle trauma symptoms with more natural supports and fewer distractions.

The power of relationships:

My training in family systems counselling, ensures that even when I work with an individual I am considering significant relationships and noticing patterns of behaviour within the system. I have always been fascinated by the power of relationships. Relationships can bring such joy and comfort, and they can also be sources of frustration and stress. When relationships are strong they can help us through some of life’s toughest challenges. Yet when relationships are unhealthy they can hinder our ability to function in everyday life. It is this dynamic nature of relationships that can have such a profound effect on trauma recovery.

What is the connection between trauma and relationships?

The very nature of the trauma symptoms can put stress on even the healthiest of relationships. An inability to trust, anxiety, sleep disturbances and hyper-reactivity for example can all cause relationship struggles. Learning to hold on to relationships through the trauma can be especially beneficial; choosing, building and maintaining healthy relationships improves recovery from trauma. Whether you are in healthy relationships or distressed relationships getting support to strengthen those relationships will allow you to better manage trauma symptoms. Accessing support for the relationship can also mean that more of the recovery can happen in a natural and supportive environment with less professional interventions.

Recovery time: The time it takes to fully recover from trauma, can be one of the largest culprits resulting in relationship distress. Often relationships that start off healthy and supportive can be worn down after months of symptoms and slow recovery. Again as the relationship deteriorates, the symptoms often worsen, resulting in even more relationship stress and even slower recovery. Intervening to strengthen relationships at this point can be an excellent way to harness the power of relationship to improve the recovery process. Intervening at an even earlier stage has the potential to ward off this issue in the first place, and the potential speed that healing process.


What does a systemic approach look like?

The trauma recovery can be addressed within the context of the family, couple etc. In this way the symptoms are a systemic problem that is addressed by all members and not by the survivor alone. This perspective can be generated and practised with professional support, and it can be put into action when the family/couple is in their natural environment, as each person will have a role to play. This cohesion can create a language for talking about the issues and an openness that will discourage misunderstanding. When multiple people work toward recovery with a mutual goal, the results are often better. Although working directly with multiple members together can be more effective, it is not necessary. Empowering an individual to create the changes within the system themselves can also be effective.

“Research has shown that when survivors of trauma have good social support, their chances of recovery improve.”

– Zayfert and DeViva (2011), When Someone You Love Suffers From Post Traumatic Stress: What to Expect and What You Can Do. New York NY: The Guilford Press.