Shared Language and terminology

In this section you will find a standard definition for commonly used terms and techniques. We recommend that you use this standard language across your communications with survivors, others agencies and funders.

This covers:


Wellbeing is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy,” but, it is important to realise that wellbeing is a much broader concept than moment-to-moment happiness.

One helpful approach is to consider wellbeing as follows: ‘Wellbeing can be understood as how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole.” New Economics Foundation (2012) Measuring Wellbeing: A guide for practitioners, London: New Economics Foundation.

This combination of how people feel and how they function is fluid can be impacted by people’s personal resources and the context and environment in which they live.

Dynamic model of wellbeing

What does wellbeing mean when working with adult survivors of childhood abuse?

Wellbeing in the context of support for adult survivors of childhood abuse has led to the following definition, based on Martin Seligman’s work on Positive Psychology:

“One way of understanding wellbeing is how well people are able to flourish – whether they feel positive emotions, can function well in society, can respond to challenges and make meaning in their lives – even as things change. Wellbeing is responsive and dynamic – it’s not static but changes as different factors and aspects of people’s lives change.”

What is wellbeing?

Wellbeing Activities

The breadth of wellbeing is reflected in the range of activities offered to improve wellbeing. These may be offered alone or in some cases in combination with counselling.

Examples include:

  • Emotional support
  • Support around homelessness
  • Support relating to housing issues
  • Support with personal safety
  • Advocacy for justice/redress
  • Family support
  • Befriending
  • Peer support
  • Drug and alcohol support
  • Prevention in schools relating to awareness and prevention of trauma
  • Support for those with disabilities
  • Support to address financial or employability issues
  • Participation in community or cultural activities e.g. art, physical activity

Integrative or person-centered counselling

What is it?

Integrative and/or Person-Centred Counselling is a broad term which brings together different elements of psychotherapy or specific therapies. Support is tailored according to individual need or presenting issues.

Psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic counsellors are trained to help survivors to express and explore their thoughts and feelings. Counsellors listen and provide a non-judgmental space so survivors can feel heard and understood. Psychotherapy usually involves talking to a therapist, but sometimes other methods may be used – for example, art, music, drama and movement. Survivors can discuss feelings they have about themselves  and other people, particularly family and those close to them. In some cases, couples or families are offered joint therapy sessions together.

Psychotherapy recognises the lasting impact of trauma. Survivors will work with a therapist to think about what has happened to them, not what is wrong with them.

The focus is on compassionate listening and understanding rather than making a diagnosis.

How does patient centred counselling work

Counselling within SOCAS mainly uses a humanistic and relational approach. Counsellors offer psycho-education around trauma, building a trusting and non- judgemental relationship to help adjust previous unhelpful relationship templates, as well as giving survivors a space to talk about their experiences and help make sense of what happened to them.

This provides a reflective space for survivors to understand more about their trauma reactions including recognising their triggers for their behaviour, their existing coping strategies and developing new behaviours to improve life satisfaction.

Some trauma-processing work may be undertaken through these approaches, although this is primarily by providing a reflective space to help the survivor understand more about their lives and presenting trauma reactions.

This differs to the trauma processing work which occurs in EMDR and TF-CBT, which both focus more directly on unprocessed images or memories which are believed to be affecting the survivor in the here and now.

For further information we recommend the following links:

Types of counselling and psychotherapy

There are a wide range of counselling and psychotherapy approaches. For clarity, it is good practice to clearly define which approach your service offers and be familiar with the evidence base that supports it.

For further information we recommend the following links:

Trauma treatment

We use Trauma Treatment to describe the evidence-based therapies in the NICE and SIGN guidelines for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder including TF-CBT and EMDR. During trauma treatment survivors experiencing high distress linked to the memory of past trauma are enabled to safely and effectively process trauma memories.

We recognise the term treatment may pathologise or medicalise normal trauma reactions. Trauma Processing is the term used in Scotland’s “Transforming Psychological Trauma Knowledge and Skills Framework.”

We have not used Trauma Processing as SOCAS organisations/ counsellors in the recent review viewed their wider Counselling activities as also contributing to trauma processing for individuals. To avoid confusion we have therefore used Trauma Treatment, despite its limitations.

More detail on specific trauma treatments can be found in the section below.

Trauma-Focussed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT)

This therapy takes a collaborative approach to working with some of the symptoms associated with trauma reactions. This will usually include some psycho-education about trauma, Safety and Stabilisation work, as well as working with specific memories and beliefs.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

When a person is involved in a traumatic event, they may feel overwhelmed and their brain may be unable to fully process what is going on – leading it to become “stuck.”

EMDR is technique which aims to help the brain “unstick” and reprocess the memory properly so that it is no longer so intense. It also helps to desensitise the person to the emotional impact of the memory, so that they can think about the event without experiencing such strong feelings.

EMDR facilitates this by asking the person to recall the traumatic event while they also move their eyes from side-to-side, hear a sound in each ear alternately, or feel a tap on each hand alternately. These side-to-side sensations seem to effectively stimulate the “stuck” processing system in the brain so that it can reprocess the information more like an ordinary memory, reducing its intensity.

See this video for further explanation:

Play Video


Key Principles and Practice


Section 2: Trauma Practice