Working with the person inside the body - Trauma Informed Practice
I work with a trauma-informed approach in all my work and with all clients. This is not something I switch on and off with different clients - it is the way I work in all spaces and with all people. It's fundamentally about seeing the individual person inside the body.
With some clients this is often a subtle practice and way of working, while with others it can be more direct in consideration of the specific restrictions created by trauma and mental health issues. This doesn't mean all my clients are living with the aftermath of trauma, and it doesn't mean you need to have experienced trauma to work with me. I will meet you at the place you have found yourself and we will go from there.
An important distinction to make is that trauma-informed personal training is not trauma therapy. Yes, we make room and acknowledge your history where we need to, but the session is about moving forwards, taking into consideration where you are and how it impacts you and the way you move and experience the environment you are in.
If you have never engaged in regular exercise before, moving your body and learning new patterns of movement are taxing on energy reserves and can be anxiety-inducing. Exercising can create a sense of vulnerability and exposure. In order to aid recovery, we have to be able to bypass those feelings and move to a level of physical work which helps us stabilise – then take back some control. In trauma-informed practice, understanding how we are affected by our environment and history is fundamental in order to help someone progress. For the practitioner, trauma-informed practice is about being fully present, respectful and paying attention to the whole person who has chosen to work with you, not projecting your own ideas of what fitness should ‘look’ like.
Exercising and building physical strength is often the missing piece for maintaining a healthy mind in our lives. The fitness industry is great at loading us with messages that can be inhibiting and giving us the sense that those spaces belong to ‘others', when in fact gym spaces, fitness trainers and classes should be accessible to all of us no matter what shape, size, background or identity we hold. I work with the goal of helping you bridge the gap between physical disconnect to a sense of agency, and then developing a sustainable relationship with exercise.
Something to understand in all of this is that there is no particular movement practice, specific exercise, or style of training which aids recovery or can ‘cure’ trauma. There are, however, wonderful powerful metaphors to be found in movement. For example - if you feel the heaviness of grief in your chest, try a bench press. If you are stressed, angry or frustrated then slam balls can help vent that tension out constructively. An outward expression of internal states can be an incredibly powerful addition to other therapeutic practices. Learning what will make you feel good is an empowering process, and this looks different for everyone.
There is a growing cohort of trainers and coaches who are willing to learn and understand how crucial this trauma-informed approach can be for truly helping clients to discover and adhere to exercise fully. The approach began in the world of psychotherapy but more and more is migrating into the world of exercise and the body. So when these days, more and more people are turning to exercise to assist with their mental health, or recover from mental illness, it only makes sense for PTs to work in this trauma-informed way: using inclusive language, welcoming the person as a whole instead of just a body to be trained, understanding the context of their lives and the background to their issues, and creating an environment of safety and security so that the client can does as best as possible in the workouts. As more and more of us are aware of mental illness and trauma in our lives, it seems the time has come for personal training to adapt.