The Impacts of Trauma Informed vs Non-Trauma Informed Mental Health Care

Written by Chisato Hotta, DSW, LPCC, LMFT

Trigger Warning:
This post discusses multiple forms of trauma including graphic descriptions of sexual trauma, physical trauma,emotional trauma and domestic violence/Intimate Partner Violence. If activated, TILA recommends incorporating healing practices such as moving, walking, running, pushing against a wall, connecting with people who are supportive and empathetic, and taking a break at any time.

“How do you smile every day?” Every person, including therapists, that I have gone to have asked me this question when I share my life story. I have one of those lives that people say is like a trauma timeline. I always laugh because it is true.

In my years of going to therapy, I have learned first hand what it is like to go to non-trauma informed mental health professionals.

Several years ago, I went to a therapist due to being sexually assaulted by one of my best friends. I was a sociology student at UC Berkeley and was also a rape crisis counselor. It was not my first sexual assault, nor my last, so as weird as it sounds, I was okay with the fact that I was assaulted. That does not mean that sexual assault is ever ok, but I knew how to heal from that. What I was struggling with, was the fact that I missed him. For 7 years, he was my best friend. He knew how to make me laugh, how to make me feel safe, and was my normal. He was friends with my boyfriend at the time (now husband). I missed him and our friendship. So, I was struggling.
The therapist heard my words, and said, “many sexual assault victims deal with the guilt of being assaulted. Many times, they feel dirty or like they did something wrong.” I explained that was not my struggle. But she would not hear me. She kept trying to put me in a box of “sexual assault victim” and how I should feel. She never once asked about him- what he was like, his race, anything. She focused solely on me and how my struggle is only because I was a “sexual assault victim.” I went for several months, but I never felt safe or heard. It was not helpful.

After that, I went to another therapist, who was very trauma informed. She was amazing! She heard my concerns and the struggle that I was going through. I was comfortable with my decision to walk away, but I still missed him tremendously. Hearing that, we discussed what that could mean.

We explored what our relationship had meant and the power dynamics within the relationship. He was a white male, I was an Asian female. He was younger- I came from a more privileged background SES-wise. Maybe that was how we balanced each other out. We had been friends for 7 years and during that time, although there were shifts in our relationship, we loved each other very much. He would always say, “you know me more than anyone else knows me.” We dated briefly but decided that we were better off as friends. We never became sexual, because of my discomfort, but we were a good pair.
Exploring our relationship further, we dated and broke up, partly because of his choice. Our break up was pretty mutual at the end, and we ended amicably. When I took space, he came to me and begged for us to be friends. He expressed that he couldn’t imagine being without me.

To be completely transparent, I never thought I would be the one that left that relationship. He had my complete trust and love, and he shattered that. The feeling of safety was gone. Maybe he needed to take something to balance out the power imbalance that he saw. Maybe he was jealous about the fact that I had moved on and was in a relationship, whereas he had stayed single after me. Maybe he thought I would wait for him.I don’t know. I only let go because when I attempted to talk to him about it, he said, “I have flaws, and I’m not perfect. If you can’t accept that about me, then that’s not my fault.” While I agree and understand that, the fact that he decided to call what he did to me a “flaw” was my final straw.

His decision continues to impact me, on a professional and personal level, at all times. I miss him, still to this day, and our friendship that we had. The way he would make me laugh. The way he knew how I was doing just by my “hi.” Every single day, I still think of the wonderful times that we had. How we used to just get each other. I still love him, very, very much, and will continue to do so from afar. If he has not changed, I know he misses me as well. At the very least, I hope he sometimes thinks about me, and maybe feels a little regret of what he did. But if he doesn’t, that is ok too.

With my trauma informed therapist, we were able to explore the power dynamics within that relationship, and it helped me to realize that I took back my power when I walked away. That is what trauma informed care can do!

Please note: If you are experiencing domestic violence, intimate partner violence, gender based violence, please see our resources.