Can having a trauma-informed practice really make that much of a difference?
Over the weekend, I threw out my back. Bear in mind, I danced for 13+ years as a classical ballerina, so my body is bound to have problems. I've been told by doctors and chiropractors in the past that my SI joint (sacroiliac for those who know) has a tendency to pop out of place, along with two of my lower vertebrae. I'd gone to a chiropractor consistently in 2020 for pain in that area, and stopped after several months because the issue seemed to be resolved.
But this Saturday, I went to sit down, something popped, and I couldn't move. Unsure what else to do, I called one of the local chiropractic clinics to see if they could get me in on an emergency basis, until I could see my usual practitioner the next week. As soon as I arrived at the clinic, in obvious pain, the team seemed to look me up and down, scoff a bit, and then usher me to the back room.
As I went to sit on the table, my chiropractor for the day, a petite young woman, looked as my chart and said, 'Well, we haven't seen you since 2020. Usually we want to see you on a consistent basis to see any improvement.' I told her that I hadn't been having issues, and when she asked why I was there today, I explained what had happened, but I could tell she wasn't listening.
She told me to lay down, which I did, and then asked me how much pain I was in out of 10. I said a 9. She mumbled an 'OK' and then proceeded to give me a full body, manual adjustment, the entire time telling me how if I only come in one time and then never come back, if I don't keep up with my care, this kind of thing is bound to happen. This lecture went on for about 5 minutes, with her essentially implying that I had caused my current predicament by failing to take care of myself.
Once she was done with the first part of the adjustment, and mostly done with her lecture, she told me to roll over on to my side, then, without explaining what she was doing, pulled my knee up to my stomach, crossed my arms over my chest, told me to breathe and that it might be 'a little tender.' She then sat on my leg, forcing my back to crack. At this point, I am fully in tears from the pain of what she is doing, and my body is beginning to shake.
At this point I should mention: I am currently neck deep in healing from PTSD, anxiety, and depression, from abuse as a child. Needless to say, the way she was throwing my body around without telling me what she was doing was extremely triggering.
So as I am laying on the table, holding in tears, all my muscles tense from the pain, she looks down at me and says, 'All right, let's do the other side.' No regard for my tears, for my obvious distress, or my level of pain. She told me she knows it was a bit tender, after I had told her my pain was a level 9, and proceeded to crack my back the same way on the other side, flop me on to my back, and manually crack my neck.
As she finished, she told me to sit up and that she would grab me an ice pack. Leaving me to help myself up to a seat, I sat there in total astonishment at what had just happened. Because I had been to the chiropractor in the past, I knew how things went. I knew what a general adjustment looked like. But I also knew that when someone comes in injured, you are supposed to do a full assessment of the area and its function, and specialize the adjustment to be aware of the injury at hand.
And I also knew that no matter what, you always stop when the client is in distress. You always check in. I knew from experience that the shaking in my body, the feeling of being dissociated, and the sudden lack of feeling pain meant that my body was going into a PTSD response, but in that moment, I didn't know what else to do but sit and wait for her to come back.
Because here is the thing about trauma and PTSD: When your body has experienced a traumatic experience, it remembers. It remembers the energy, the feeling, the touches, the emotions. It remember everything. And when those body memories are triggered, it is as if that event is happening all over again. So sitting on that table, not only was my body in shock from the pain of my back, it was also experiencing what it thought was an assualt, not a chiropractic adjustment.
The woman walked back in, and after a short conversation full of reasons I should come back regularly, why my thoughts on what happened to my back were incorrect, and more words about how it might be 'a bit tender,' she told me I was done, and walked away. So I got up, shaking, holding in tears, walked to my car, and proceeded to have a full-body PTSD flashback experience. I was able to work through it, calm down, and return home safely, but unfortunately, that damage had already been done.
The things that went wrong in that session were too many to count. Not only did she imply that the problem was my fault, fail to listen to my concerns, ignore my stated level of pain, and lecture me as if I were a child, she also failed to show any concern or compassion for my tears, never asked if I was okay, and forgot that the client on her table was a human, not just a body.
I later called the clinic, shared the above story, and told them exactly why I would never be coming back. It doesn't matter what your practice is. Whether you are a Reiki practitioner, a chiropractor, a vocal coach, or anything in between. The people who come to see you are more than bodies, more than problems to be solved. They are human beings, with layers of life happening to them all at once.
No matter your intention, actions can be hurtful. A lack of compassion can be the difference between a satisfied client and a broken one. And knowing the signs and symptoms of trauma can be the difference between a successful visit and a traumatizing one.
Please, whoever you are, know that the people who come to see you are not just the problem they present. They may be actively healing from trauma, involved in a difficult relationship, struggling financially, or going through the throes of every day life. They are more than who you see before you, and they have more going on than you can ever know in the few moments you see them.
Never assume. Never ignore the signs. And if you have the chance, cultivate your understanding and knowledge of how to create a trauma-informed practice, because it only takes a moment for things to go wrong.
Your clients come to you for care, no matter your profession. You have the choice, the ability, and the power to cultivate a practice that can meet them where they are and support them in all experiences. You have the ability to create a safe space for your clients to be. It's your choice to do so. But know that that choice, just like very other one, has power and meaning, and can be the difference between a safe space and a threatening one.
All the love,