Survivors of Trauma: Heroes Emerging From the Darkness

By Lisa Compton

As I trauma therapist, I have the privileged experience of working with people I consider true heroes — those who have been through painful traumatic events and find the courage to continue living a productive life.  Trauma survivors are some of the bravest people I know.  Counseling those that have experienced trauma is both rewarding and challenging for the therapist.

As I sit with client after client that has survived various types of trauma, I am in awe of the depth of our experiences as trauma counselors.  The most severely wounded and hurting are entrusted into our care.  Their painful memories and broken spirits seek out our “expertise” often as a last hope to make sense of the chaos that surrounds the human existence.

The clients that become fixated in our own minds and trigger our countertransference are the ones who have suffered the most extreme of what this earth has to offer.  Our curiosity is often peaked by their remarkably horrifying stories and our minds sent into a whirlwind of pondering, “Could this ever happen to me?”

Treatment starts with a cry within our own spirits — what do I have to offer this client that will ease the pain, and is easing the pain even possible? We rely on our past successes with wounded clients to combat the helplessness we feel as we sit passively witnessing their trauma narratives.  We are not able to help all of them. The threat of suicides lingers in the therapeutic air as the ultimate failure of treatment.

However, there are those who are heroically able to overcome the odds.  There is a hope for even the most extreme cases that the human soul can thrive after experiencing the deepest wounds.  It is based on this hope that we ask the client to rip off the scab that has provided a barrier of protection and share with us the cuts that run to their core.  An intimacy of trust develops between them and us.  Our small office with a chair and sofa transforms into sacred ground where the evil that was meant to destroy them becomes overtaken by the power of healing and survival.

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Lisa Compton is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Trauma Specialist.  She was once a student of Scott Allison’s at the University of Richmond.

6 Responses to “Survivors of Trauma: Heroes Emerging From the Darkness”


  • After reading this article, it is apparent that the trauma counselor also takes on an heroic role in trying to absorb the hurt of these clients and rescue these survivors from their anguish.

  • Well, while this all is true, why would that be referred to as heroism?
    I survived clinical death, had 9 surgeries, had litlle chances to make it, spent almost a year in a hospital where only very severe traumas were treated, then fighted through daily routine on crutches, living on the 5th floor with no elevator. I was told at first I would not be able to walk, but I did learn to sit, walk and even dance again, all on my own and alone. Cannot do everything, but still managed it.
    That was in Latvia, now Europe. No wheelchairs, no counselors. It was in 1992, we had no money, no food, not to mention medications, and I could not do much because each step was causing a lot of blood running out and insane pain. My daughter was 12, she wanted to eat. Want to live? Have to do it. I think, it’s that simple. I managed it all, walked crying, but walked, and once I had that ability again, I looked for work where I could only sit. I didn’t have car obviously. Took me about 2 hours to get to work on my crutches. Received small disabled benefits (50 dollars a month) for a couple of years, and that was it.
    I assume, people sometimes don’t know what difficult means, and also how strong they actually are. No heroism there, just desire to live.

  • Inese- you have definitely been through a lot of pain. Please understand that considering others that have been through “less” than you have is in no way meant to minimize your struggle. I fully consider your journey heroic as well. Unfortunately, in the field of counseling we witness those that experience trauma and choose not to push through the pain and lose their desire to live. I believe the purpose of this blog is to celebrate the amazing variety of heroes that choose life and their different journeys.

  • I agree with Gwen. The trauma counselor, like anyone who devotes their life to helping others, is a heroic figure. Compassion saves lives as much as medicine does.

    I’ve worked in the medical field for about 26 years now, in one capacity or another– from support to administration to insurance. I’ve met countless people who have been sick, hurt, weak, frightened and often overwhelmed with hopelessness– I know very well how much a kind word or gesture, a simple show of sympathy or effort on their behalf, can have enormous significance. People who take on the role of helping up those who have been knocked down by life make an incalculable difference.

    And Inese, you underestimate yourself– your struggle has been heroic and your daughter will appreciate all that you went through.

  • Encouraged to see acknowledgement to those who suffer with extreme trauma. Professionals who recognize the differences are much appreciated and most likely to recognize special situations which require referring a Survivor to other professionals and/or additional resources. HOPE is on the horizon and will be found by many because of those who care enough to care. Thank you. Each of you.

  • I remember Hemingway once wrote: we take a beating one way or another, or something to that effect. Some people will suffer trauma because of their bad experiences imagined or real. Some will have the power to move on and go on with their lives. While others will remain caught in the memories played by the event. My humble advise is to see these events played in the memory as mere ‘thoughts’. Probably, that will be a good step to gain a distance from it, and sooner a healing.

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