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Is that mine?

Are we projecting our own trauma onto our children?

As a child counselor, over the years I have witnessed firsthand the lasting impact of trauma on young minds. Trauma is a profound experience that can shape how we view the world, ourselves, and our relationships. Unfortunately, one of the unintended consequences of unresolved trauma is that we may unknowingly project it onto our children. This blog post aims to shed light on the idea of trauma projection, its potential consequences, and how we can break this cycle to promote healthier relationships with our children.

Understanding Trauma Projection

Trauma projection can occur when adults unconsciously transfer their unresolved trauma and emotional pain onto their children. It can manifest in various ways, such as excessive protectiveness, overreacting to minor issues, and projecting unrealistic expectations on their young ones. Parents may project their unhealed wounds onto their children without realizing it, thereby perpetuating a cycle of pain and emotional distress.

The Impact on Children

Children are remarkably perceptive, and they often internalize their parents’ emotions and behaviors. When parents project their trauma onto their children, it can lead to several negative consequences, including:

  1. Emotional Burden: Children may experience confusion and emotional burden when they absorb their parents’ unresolved trauma. This can hinder their emotional development and create a sense of responsibility for something they don’t understand.
  2. Low Self-Esteem: Constantly feeling responsible for their parents’ emotional well-being can lead children to develop low self-esteem and self-blame.
  3. Repeating the Cycle: When children grow up in an environment overshadowed by unresolved trauma, they might unknowingly carry these patterns into their own adulthood and relationships.
  4. Parent-Child Disconnect: Trauma projection can create emotional distance between parents and children, making it difficult for kids to feel seen, heard, and understood.
  5. Anxiety and Depression: The emotional turmoil caused by trauma projection can increase the risk of anxiety and depression in children.

Recognizing Trauma Projection

Recognizing trauma projection is essential for breaking this cycle. Here are some signs that you might be projecting your trauma onto your children:

  1. Overprotectiveness: Being excessively overprotective and fearful about your child’s safety and well-being.
  2. Emotional Overreactions: Reacting strongly to minor issues that trigger unresolved emotions from your past.
  3. Unrealistic Expectations: Projecting high expectations onto your child and reacting negatively if they don’t meet them.
  4. Lack of Boundaries: Struggling to establish healthy emotional boundaries with your child and becoming overly involved in their lives.
  5. Repeating Patterns: Noticing recurring emotional patterns and behaviors in your relationship with your child that resemble your own experiences growing up.

Breaking the Cycle

Breaking the cycle of trauma projection requires self-awareness, reflection, and, in many cases, seeking professional help. Here are some strategies to start the healing process:

  1. Therapy and Support: Seek the guidance of a qualified therapist or counsellor to explore your own trauma and its potential impact on your parenting.
  2. Mindfulness and Self-Reflection: Practice mindfulness and self-reflection to become more aware of your emotions and reactions.
  3. Educate Yourself: Learn about the effects of trauma on children and how to foster a healthy parent-child relationship.
  4. Embrace Vulnerability: Be open and honest with your child about your struggles, within appropriate boundaries, to build trust and connection.
  5. Prioritize Self-Care: Take care of your emotional and mental well-being, as a healthy parent is better equipped to support their child.


As child counsellors, our goal is to create a safe space for children to express themselves, heal, and grow. However, we must also extend this support to parents who may unknowingly project their trauma onto their children. By recognizing and addressing our unresolved wounds, we can break the cycle of trauma projection, creating a healthier and more nurturing environment for the next generation to thrive.


Perry, B. D. (2006). The impact of trauma on children. In Textbook of child and adolescent forensic psychiatry (pp. 221-238). American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking.

Siegel, D. J. (2013). Parenting from the inside out: How a deeper self-understanding can help you raise children who thrive. Penguin.

Badenoch, B. (2008). Being a brain-wise therapist: A practical guide to interpersonal neurobiology. W. W. Norton & Company.

Note: The sources mentioned above provide valuable insights into the field of child psychology and trauma. As a child counsellor, I often refer to these resources to deepen my understanding and enrich my practice.


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The Top 5 Signs You’re Headed for Burnout

This is one for the people in the helping professions. Burnout is a term you’ve probably heard frequently, but for those who don’t know: burnout is essentially a point in your career where you end up in a physical and emotional puddle. Sure, not the most clinical definition, but take it from someone who’s been there- that’s exactly what it feels like!

So how does it occur? Many factors can contribute: excessive caseload, lack of support from management, poor work/leisure balance, and many more. Burnout doesn’t suddenly happen, rather it’s more of a downward decline that affects a person physically and emotionally.

So, what are the signs?

Your health is impacted

You seem to catch every single bug that you come into contact with. And they can be harder to shake off than usual. Stress can have a huge impact on our immune system, and it’s often the first indicator that something is a little ‘off’. Of course, it’s worth noting that a visit to your GP should be your first step, and keep them in the loop about your stress levels.

You’re distracted most of the time.

Your partner might be telling you about their day, but you don’t take anything in. You forget to pay for your child’s school camp on time. In social situations, you feel on the periphery: you’re ‘there’ but you’re not really there. Stress impacts our ability to be fully present. You might be thinking constantly about that difficult client, or you might just be mentally ‘checking out’. When we’re not fully present, we miss so many important moments, and are left feeling unfulfilled.

You’re caring less about your clients.

You got into your work because you want to make a difference. You want to help people. But now things are different. People are becoming just numbers in a caseload to you. You feel numb when faced with complex trauma, as opposed to the empathy you once would have felt. As professionals in the helping fields, we do need to tread a very fine line- maintaining empathy whist maintaining a professional distance. When you feel that sense of empathy slipping away over time, it might be burnout creeping up on you.

You’re taking a lot of sick days.

Those bugs that you’re always catching are contributing to this. But you also (often) feel the need for a mental health day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the mental health day, but what I’m referring to here is a lot of time taken off from work.


You’re tired ALL. THE. TIME. You feel like you are just dragging yourself through each day, and you have very little energy. Except at night of course, because that’s when your brain and body just don’t seem to want to rest after all. And repeat. And repeat again.

So now what? If you’re feeling like these things apply to you, it’s time to up the self-care routine, and speak to your supervisor.

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Counselling and “the space between”

counselling gambling Yarraville“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Victor Frankl


We love this statement here at Focus.


This statement from Viktor Frankl teaches us that even if we feel we don’t have a choice, we do. It is in the ‘space’ that growth is acquired. Upon choosing lies responsibility and autonomy. It encapsulates so much of the work that we do as counsellors. When Josette works with children who exhibit challenging behaviours, this is the space she works in. When I work with people battling an addiction, this is the space I work in.


The space may seem brief to those experiencing it, but as counsellors we work with our clients to help them identify that space. When the space is identified, clients can start to slow down their automatic responses.

How does this work in practice?

Consider this example of Roberta, who is battling an addiction to gambling. Although she wants to curb her gambling habit, on her way home from work she finds herself driving to the pokies as if on autopilot. She experiences this as not having a choice; her body has suddenly acted on a desire to gamble. But in examining this with her counsellor, Roberta realised that she had felt angry and frustrated after a run-in with a colleague at work that day and as a result had an unpleasant physical sensation in the pit of her stomach. She realised that whenever she felt that physical sensation in her body she would feel a strong urge to gamble, as it provided her system with a rush of dopamine that made that unpleasant sensation go away. As she had acted on that urge so many times in the past, she had come to experience her reaction as being instant, and she felt as though she was out of control.


Roberta’s awareness grew over the course of counselling. She began to notice the role her body played and became more attuned to her reactions. Where she once felt she acted on autopilot, she now experiences the space between the stimulus and response, and uses her new strategies to resist the urge to gamble.


Next time you feel that you don’t have a choice we invite you to consider the ‘space’ between.


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Family Dispute Resolution (Mediation)- What Can I Expect?

As an accredited Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP), I see many clients who feel overwhelmed by the situation they find themselves in. For some people, separation is something that they did not see coming, nor did they want it to happen. For others, separation is an inevitable outcome and something of a relief, especially if the relationship was toxic or abusive. However it occurs, separation brings about a burden of stress to all involved, both practically and emotionally. This of course is magnified when there are children involved. For some parents, basic communication between them becomes a minefield and heightened emotions get in the way of civil conversation. For these parents, mediation can be helpful as a platform to discuss their concerns with a neutral third party who can provide a safe environment for discussions.

If you have been invited to attend mediation, or you are considering initiating the process, you might be wondering what to expect. Firstly, the mediator meets with the initiating party to conduct an assessment, which involves collecting some background information and hearing what the person would like to achieve through mediation. A mediator will ask lots of different questions about issues such as mental health, family violence, relationship history, etc. This helps the mediator assess whether mediation will be a suitable process for you, and if so how best to facilitate the process. For example, you may be willing to participate in the process but the thought of sitting in the same room as the other party makes you feel sick with nerves so the mediator might arrange for the mediation to take place in separate rooms (“shuttle mediation”).

The other party will then be invited to participate in the same confidential one-on-one session with the mediator. The mediator will then need to assess that it is suitable to proceed with mediation, and if so the mediation session will be scheduled.

At the start of the session, the mediator will give you an introduction about the main points of mediation. Then each of you will be invited to discuss what you feel the issues are for discussion. Both of you will have a chance to speak uninterrupted at this point. Some people find it helpful to bring some notes along to help them remember the issues they want to discuss. The mediator will then check in to make sure they’ve understood what you’ve each said, and then write up the list of issues, or agenda items, on the whiteboard. With the mediator’s guidance, you work through each item, one by one, and offer your ideas or proposals. The mediator’s role is to help you stay on the issue at hand, to help facilitate productive communication, and to make sure the children’s best interests are being considered throughout.

The mediation model I use as an FDRP is the facilitative model. This model allows the parties to determine what the issues are to discuss, and the order in which they will be discussed. The mediator in this model is a facilitator of a discussion, and is not there to force an agreement or coerce anyone to agree with someone else’s views. In my perspective, I may be in charge of the process, but the parties are in charge of what is up for discussion.

Any agreements you reach will be noted by the mediator, so you can take a copy home with you. It’s worth noting that this is not a legal agreement at this stage, it is merely a reflection of a discussion. However, the mediator will type these agreements up into a parenting agreement, which will be considered a legal document once it is signed and dated by both parties. Further information regarding parenting plans can be found on the Attorney- General’s website.

During the mediation session, you might feel like a break, and it’s OK to ask for one. The mediator might also offer to take a break. This can be a good opportunity for the mediator to check in with each of you confidentially to see how the process is going for you.

Not everyone reaches full agreement in one session, although it can happen. In fact, many people reach agreement after two or three sessions. It’s also helpful to remember that even if no agreements have been made during a mediation session, it doesn’t mean complete failure. Many clients can have a change in perspective after the session, or they may learn more effective communication strategies in the process, allowing the co-parenting relationship to improve.

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Processing big emotions

As parents, we’re aware that kids can have a hard time processing emotions sometimes. Challenging behaviours can escalate as a result, making it difficult to remain calm ourselves whilst we help them through their emotional distress. One helpful concept we use with both parents and children is called “flipping your lid”, which is described by Dr Dan Siegel in his book, “The Whole Brain Child”. Dan Siegel is a leader in the field of child psychology, in particular neurobiology. The “flipping your lid” concept can be described like this:

Make your hand into a fist, but with your thumb tucked inside your fingers. This represents your whole brain, working effectively. Your four fingers represent what we call the “upstairs brain”, the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is used for problem solving, decision making and using logic to perform these actions. Now, lift up all four fingers fully, and you can see the thumb that was neatly tucked in. The thumb represents our “downstairs brain”, the limbic system, sometimes also known as our “reptilian brain”. This is the part of the brain that processes all our big emotions, such as anger and fear.

When our upstairs brain is engaged and ‘hugging’ our downstairs brain (the fist), then we are capable of processing those big emotions, with our upstairs brain helping us to use logic and common sense to navigate difficult feelings. But sometimes, we might “flip our lid” – in the hand model, all fingers are up and the thumb is exposed- and our downstairs brain is processing the hard stuff without any help from the rational upstairs brain. Children often experience “flipping their lid” as their brains are still developing their necessary neurological pathways for the brain to work cohesively. As adults we can also flip our lids at times- our emotions may overwhelm us and we might say or do things we later regret.

As parents, this model can be really helpful in talking to children about their emotions and behaviors. We’re all guilty of flipping our lids at one time or another, and if we are under stress we might flip our lid a lot more often than we’d like to. These can be useful teachable moments for our children, however. We can label these outbursts in a way that children can relate to, and give them the language they need to connect their thoughts and feelings.

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The “Aha!” moment in counselling

I’ll be honest. I was driving to my psychologist appointment last week, and I would have preferred to be any where else. Did I really want to go back and stir up some difficult emotions when I felt like, on that day, everything was going really well? We’ve been doing some great work lately but it has been pretty intensive, and not easy. Couldn’t I just go out for coffee/ clean out my sock drawer/ do the grocery shopping/ do absolutely anything but go to my session instead?

I know what you’re thinking- “She’s a counsellor, and she’s reluctant to go to a counselling session? Why should I go then?”. Fair point. More on that later.

My psychologist is pretty busy. If I cancelled, I wouldn’t be able to get another appointment for a long time. So I pushed through all the persistent thoughts of cancelling the session and just went.

I left that session one hour later feeling like I was in a bit of a daze. Everything looked a little bit different. I felt different. You see, I’d had one of those “aha!” moments that us counsellors love seeing a client experience. From that session I’d come to see something that had appeared to be a familiar situation in a completely new light.

In my car on the way home, I savoured this new revelation. I rolled it around in my mouth, tasting all the different notes. I held it up to the light and investigated its flaws. I poked it, I prodded it. Does it fit with my experience of the past? Will it fit with my hopes for the future? There was so much to consider.

Those “aha!” moments are incredible, and I speak from both a client and counsellor perspective here. It’s the moment when, as a client, you feel as though- quite literally- someone has just turned the lights on in a darkened room. As a counsellor, it’s a privilege to help a client obtain a new perspective in such a profound manner. Those revelations open our eyes to so many things, whether it be our own thoughts or behaviours, or that of others, that might impact on our lives.

When we experience these moments, we go from feeling powerless to empowered. We have new knowledge that we can choose to act on. We have options. We can choose what to do with this “aha!”.

So yes, I was reluctant to go to my counselling session. But boy, am I thankful I did.

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Resilience: How children’s past experiences impact behaviour.

According to Dr. Bruce Perry, a leading psychiatrist in the field of child trauma, differential state reactivity is the response of a child to external stimuli which is based on their past experience. To put it simply, when a child has experienced trauma in their past, they will respond to a situation in a way that may not match with the way we might expect them to react. This can be confusing for many people involved in the child’s life, such as parents, carers, teachers, or their peers. We might perceive these reactions as challenging or ‘naughty’ behaviours. But what if we were to view this child’s reaction as a response that was learned as a way of making sense of their world?

Stress inevitably changes our state of reactivity, whether it is a child who has experienced trauma or not. However, for a child who has had multiple or complex traumas, the reaction is much more severe or ‘reactive’. Vulnerable children will experience stress when environmental stimuli are unpredictable as they have experienced interrupted and unpredictable caregiving. A resilient child has a more predictable and controlled response to stimuli as they have experienced predictable and controlled caregiving, thus learning how to regulate their emotions more effectively.

An example might be: a resilient child may scrape their knee after falling over in the playground. They will experience some stress, however being resilient (modeled by the caregivers) the response may be that they are calm and they seek comfort from their caregiver. The response here is moderate and controlled. A vulnerable child experiences the same scrape on their knee, however, their worldview is different so the stress they experience may come across as alarm or fear, causing them to have a hyper vigilant response. For these children, when something unpredictable happens the response is severe and prolonged. As a trauma informed practitioner, I take this into consideration to individualize treatment for my clients and help them to establish ways of regulating their inner world to match their outer world.


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How do I choose the right counsellor for me?

If you’ve made the decision to seek support via counselling, then firstly, congratulations. A successful counselling relationship is a precious thing and can be one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

However, the path to finding the right counsellor for you can be a tricky one. For starters, the terminology can be confusing. Do you need a counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist?

Let’s talk about counsellors, seeing as that’s our domain! Counsellors can be qualified by diploma, bachelor degree, post graduate studies, or masters qualifications. Regardless of their education and experience, one thing to look for in a prospective counsellor is a membership with a professional body such as the ACA (Australian Counselling Association) or PACFA (Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia). This means that no matter the qualifications of the counsellor you’ve chosen, you can be assured they have a strict Code of Ethics to adhere to and responsibilities to their clients to provide a level of best practice. A professional body will also ensure it’s counsellors engage in regular professional development and supervision to guide their practice.

The most important advice I could give in looking for a counsellor is to find one who is a good fit FOR YOU. Most of the success that counselling can make in a person’s life comes down not to the amount of education or experience the counsellor has but the strength of the therapeutic relationship between counsellor and client. One of the first things I tell my clients when meeting them for the first time is that if you feel I am not a good fit for you, that’s OK! It doesn’t mean that counselling is not a good fit for you. It just means you might like to try someone else, as we all have different styles of counselling and ways of relating to others. It’s also helpful if you can discuss with your counsellor at the start what it is you’re hoping to work on, or how you hope the counsellor will respond to you. For example, do you want to be challenged? Or do you just need some space to process some emotions? That way both you and your counsellor have some clarity about what expectations you may have.

It can be a scary step to make that call to a counsellor for the first time. But your future self will thank you that you did.