The realities of trauma and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) have become very well-known. From videos to films to online articles and beyond, awareness has exponentially grown in the past decade or two. One of the many reasons this is significant is that at least 6 out of 10 people will endure a traumatic event at some point in their life. So, why is it important to process trauma?
Left unresolved, trauma can cause long-term effects that have an extremely deleterious impact on one’s quality of life. Therefore, processing trauma is important to do. It’s not simple but it’s doable and well worth the effort. The first step is to garner an understanding of what this process entails.
Processing Trauma and The 3 Phases of Trauma Recovery
1. Safety and Stabilization
If you speak to enough people affected by trauma, you’ll notice some common threads. For example, many of them experience a sense of feeling unsafe. This can relate to their interactions with others or feeling unsafe in their own body. Hence, the first phase involves taking steps to help them regain a feeling of safety.
2. Remembrance and Mourning
At some point, trauma survivors will benefit from giving words to their emotions. With the support of a trauma-informed therapist, this remembering can happen without the person also reliving the experience.
3. Reconnection and Integration
As the first two phases advance and continue, it becomes time to integrate this new sense of self into your everyday life. This could involve rebuilding old relationships and/or finding a mission to use as a foundation. It’s not about fully erasing bad memories or never having negative thoughts. Rather, trauma therapy guides the person on how to regulate emotions and utilize healthy coping skills.
Therapies That Can Help You Begin Processing Trauma
In-Vivo or Imaginal Exposure Therapy
When it’s done in person (in-vivo) or via visualization, exposure therapy has been found to be very effective for trauma survivors. By directly facing a fear or intensely focusing on a mental image of their fear, many clients discover that what they dread is not nearly as bad as they pictured it to be. Imaginal exposure therapy is very useful and very necessary when the trauma relates to a scenario that cannot be realistically simulated.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
This is an unusual form of psychotherapy in that the emphasis is not on talking. Rather, the therapist performs hand and finger movements that the client must follow with their eyes. This induces a state similar to rapid eye movement sleep and allows the client to access the memories without being triggered. In such a state, the trauma can be processed and replaced with a positive image or memory.
Cognitive Processing Therapy
Trauma can distort how someone thinks about themselves and the world. Distorted thinking leads to distorted beliefs and behaviors. Therefore, cognitive processing therapy (CPT) zeroes in on negative thoughts. Once they have been challenged and changed, processing trauma can truly begin.
Processing Trauma Self-Help Steps
During the process, the trauma survivor will be encouraged to engage in supplementary self-care to enhance the effort. This may include:
- Practicing patience with the work
- Allowing yourself to feel and name your emotions
- Actively protecting yourself from being re-exposed to the experience
- Developing ways to both distract and relax yourself
- Creating new daily routines to keep you focused
- Asking for support when you need it and connecting with others who are also processing trauma
- Appreciating success stories about trauma survivors
- Learning as much as possible about trauma and how to recover