Understanding Trauma and Emotion: Dealing with Trauma Using an Emotion-Focused Approach

Understanding Trauma and Emotion: Dealing with Trauma Using an Emotion-Focused Approach

Understanding Trauma and Emotion: Dealing with Trauma Using an Emotion-Focused Approach

Understanding Trauma and Emotion: Dealing with Trauma Using an Emotion-Focused Approach


A new approach for treating the traumatised client using the principles of emotion focused therapy.

How do we help the traumatised?

How can we better understand someone who has faced death, violence or imprisonment?

Traumatic experiences can leave an indelible impression on those involved, one which the person may suppress or re-live with destructive and troubling consequences. For many traumatised individuals the essence of their trauma is deeply emotional: terror, anger, anxiety.

Colin Wastell interprets the modern understanding of the traumatic process and presents his own model based on extensive research. He examines the role of emotion in human function and in particular its role in the experience of trauma and effective trauma treatment.

Wastell's approach is grounded in practical treatment and the way emotion-focused therapy can be used to benefit the therapist and client. Using extensive case studies and making clear links between theory and practice, Wastell presents an innovative practice manual for the counsellor and psychologist interested both in trauma treatment and human emotion. These principles for understanding trauma will also assist health professionals, including nurses, doctors, ambulance officers, social workers, religious leaders, emergency services workers and police officers, to help their clients.

Colin Wastell Ph.D. is Senior Lecturer in the Psychology Department and former founding director of the counselling psychology program at Macquarie University, Sydney. He has been involved in counselling and psychotherapy practice, research and training for over 15 years in a variety of contexts. His work on trauma has included both civilian and military survivors across a wide spectrum of the adult age range.


Psychological trauma is a subject of great professional and public interest. From media reports to personal testimonies, we are confronted daily by the terrible effects of accidents, war and mistreatment. These stories are not new. For centuries, it has been common knowledge that survivors of horrific events may suffer ongoing distress. There are descriptions of this sort from Homer’s Iliad to Samuel Pepys’ commentary on the Black Death and Great Fire of London in 1665–6 that clearly show the effects of these events as marking survivors with deep, disturbing and debilitating psychological scars (see Trimble 1985, pp. 6–7). However, over the last 150 years, there has been a growing acceptance by the public of the impact of traumatic events and accompanying changes, and this has been reflected in social and legislative responses to the ongoing effects of trauma on survivors.

The initial impetus for the modern study of trauma came from two separate sources in the West during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The first was the large number of surviving casualties of war, while the second came in the form of new compensation laws in Europe, which resulted in relatively large sums of money being paid to the survivors of accidents.

The initial focus was a medical model of trauma. Bodily trauma was viewed as essentially a wound or injury affecting body tissues or structures, with a resulting loss of function of the tissue or organ. The emphasis was on finding out what was no longer working, and either biochemically or surgically repairing it.

Definitions of psychological trauma have been heavily influenced by medical models of physical trauma. An older definition . . .

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