Transforming Trauma Episode 004:
Bringing Complex Trauma Healing into the Fraternity of First Responders With Gina Essex
A podcast brought to you by the NARM® Training Institute
“Complex trauma shows up in so many different ways that are covert and overt. And, the more we can recognize it, the more we're able to approach it in a way that moves towards healing and not isolation.”~ Gina Essex, MA, LPC-S
Our host Sarah is joined by Gina Essex, a psychotherapist, NARM Therapist and Senior Training Assistant, who began working with the NeuroAffective Relational Model® (NARM®) in 2013. Gina has a passion for making this trauma healing work accessible to everyone, as she says: “It’s so important for everyone to know that the effects of trauma can be healed over time.” Over the past few years Gina has been focused on introducing NARM to first responders in her community.
Gina works with firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement, and military— populations that tend to present unique challenges for traditional therapists. “These people run toward danger. They run toward life threat. They’re trained to go against their normal human instinct: to get away from danger.” Gina describes how she thinks of running toward danger as the flip side of what these first responders are dealing with internally. She suggests that in order to run toward danger, they have to run away from themselves.
In addition to the tolerance for high-risk experiences required in these professions, there’s an element of fraternity that frames any evidence of vulnerability as a potential liability. The constant desensitization to high-risk experiences can prevent these deeply-caring professionals from accessing and expressing their real feelings. “There are stigmas within these communities, ‘Don’t show your emotion. Don’t cry. You'll look weak, or you'll be weak and people don't want to work with you, or you won't have our back, or you'll be shunned if you’re weak.’” The work Gina does with the first responders address these stigmas head-on. “The work we do really evokes vulnerability. I think vulnerability is something they so desperately want and are also terrified to actually experience in an environment that they're not sure is safe.”
First responders are humans too, with real emotions and high loads of unresolved trauma. When given the right kind of support, they can share their vulnerability in connection with their group. Gina introduces NARM techniques to first responders in group settings where peers lead by example. She relies on the fraternity among the group to establish first responders' sense of safety. The process of NARM helps to promote an environment for self-compassion and healing.
“If the fire is there, the person will be armored as a result. But what will it be like if there’s no fire? Well, then there’s not a reason for the armor. We start to explore what it would be like to not have this armor, and we start to recognize the ways in which armor may feel safe. In NARM sessions, as a person feels more safe and more trusting of the space, and with me, they are then able to not be as armored, to be more open, which fosters growth in them in a wider and deeper way. Instead of showing up in a narrow way, which we see as a survival strategy, the person begins to show up in a much deeper way. This leads to more capacity as they show up in this new way; more capacity with their families, relationships and friends, and even with the general public.”
Gina has witnessed the power of NARM in her private practice to transform people shackled to complex trauma into fully engaged participants of life. When NARM is applied, the client often reconnects with emotional skills that were lost or unavailable to them previously. In turn, they’re better able to express their pain and more adept at communicating their desires. “It feels like a miracle to watch someone kind of melt into themselves again.“
As for her own journey, Gina says that NARM training has opened her up to areas where she had, in the past, focused too much attention on the doing. She’s learning to trust the process more, including her clients’ capacity to be their own healers. “It’s a very sacred space and not to be overlooked.”
Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship
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About Gina Essex:
Gina has been in private practice for over 15 years, working with adolescents and adults who’ve experienced developmental and/or complex trauma. She has a special focus working with first responders, primarily individuals in Law Enforcement, along with Firefighters and Paramedics and their families. In addition to her full-time practice, Gina is a Master Level NARM Therapist and Senior Training Assistant for the NARM Training Institute in North America.