. writings are based off of common themes, however, are in no way specific to client stories to protect confidentiality.
Continuing upward on the stairwell of trauma healing is Phase Two, referred to by Herman as Remembrance and Mourning. This phase often involves treating the traumatic memory, by form of narrative processing or by working through secondary side effects that have been left on the mind, body or soul. Somatic psychotherapy, EMDR, expressive arts, IFS, TF-CBT and Ego State work, amongst other modalities, have been scientifically proven effective in treating memories without diving too deeply into the narrative, avoiding the risk of re-traumatization.
As you process the events that have impacted your life, you may also be mourning the losses that you’ve experienced. This process of grieving gives space to slowly relieving the weights that have settled on your heart. Healing is not a one-size-fits-all process. The pacing and timing of this work is crucial as the overall focus is about you feeling a sense of stability and safety. In trauma healing, I emphasize the importance of balanced daily living being the focal point of healing, and a prerequisite to trauma processing.
In reviewing treatment goals, Allison takes a moment to focus inward;
“I notice that I can calm down in a shorter range of time after I’ve been hurt, and I ruminate less. I'm starting to see that that healing involves managing daily life, relationships and emotions in a better way, and not just about processing my big "traumas".
“What would you like to feel like when you’re wrapping up this chapter?” I ask, gently opening the door to hope, possibility and imagination.
Allison takes her time as she looks at the sand tray figurines. Her fingers land on a figurine of a Spanish dancer who has a look of ease, her legs seem to move her along the dance floor; her dance floor is the sand tray in the therapy room.
“She seems comfortable in her own skin. Her eyes have a darkness and a depth that make me think she’s had her own journey, yet there’s a unique sparkle to her.”
One of the many things trauma survivors are robbed of is their imagination. When the mind, body and psyche are hyper focused on survival, the opportunities to dream, hope and imagine are robbed. This is where creativity, art, hope and personal expression are important elements to rebuilding a sense of purpose after loss; to healing the psyche at a core level.
Dreams are what inspire our goals which outline steps for our reality.
“My clouds of hope are lined with sadness.”
The mix of joy and loss are obvious by the expression on her face.
“I know both feelings can exist at the same time. I’m just not used to it.”
In this phase of treatment, Allison engages in the process of getting to know and experiencing both her sadness from the past and hope for a brighter future.
“I’m realizing how much I’ve missed out on. And it’s hard to begin dreaming again.”
This brave expression personifies the grief of healing.
This is a bittersweet process where newfound possibilities are explored while honoring the tears, sadness and unspoken words. At a later phase of treatment Allison shares joyously;
“I’ve been sticking to my boundaries, and I notice others are respecting those boundaries as well.”
Her eyes glisten. There’s a specific pride that shines on the face of one who has traveled the journey of healing and is beginning to experience joys of life.
“What’s even bigger, is that my family, friends and partner express how grateful they are for the recent element of warmth and closeness in our relationships…” and then her voice slowly trails off...“what they didn’t know is that I was hungry for closeness all this while, but couldn’t feel safe until recently.”
Allison has taken the great pains to process fears around emotional intimacy, and is learning to safely pace connections with others; her solid backbone tells its own tale of strength she’s built.
“Although the rough days are not as frequent, I still have some moments where I feel myself beginning to spiral, but there’s an awareness and newfound ability to can catch my negativity and challenge my thoughts.”
The mind-body awareness and grounding skills Allison has been utilizing, alongside trauma processing, are proving to be helpful. She has strengthened her neural networks in her brain, providing her with alternative coping in the face of intense emotions.
It’s incredibly important to celebrate successes that are earned from hard therapy work.
I inquire with a gentle enthusiasm, and she goes on to share.
“My emotional alarm system doesn’t feel like it’s going off all the time and I know how to differentiate the difference between the here-and-now, and the past. I no longer face the world as that vulnerable young girl.”
This conversation represents the last phase of treatment, Phase Three- Reconnection and Integration. Just as a butterfly needs to come out of its cocoon, shed its layer and move forward, trauma healing asks for a rebirthing, bringing forward a new sense of self. The trauma narrative takes a backseat. It still carries validity, it carries the storyline and often the scars that tell a tale; a tale of heroism, of bravery and of courage. In this phase, you discover ownership of yourself, living with self-determination. Some survivors find meaning in giving back, often using inspired action to give to others. Some discover a new sense of direction and others courageously reconnect to loved ones where previous connections felt too threatening.
One last important point is that healing is not a linear process, meaning, you will most likely not feel feel like you've graduated phase 1, onto 2 and then phase 3. More often than not, you'll find that you'll travel through one phase and then move into the next level of work, be it in the same phase or the next phase of healing. I encourage flexibility and open-mindedness when engaging in the process of trauma healing. The three phases are more about giving an overview of the structure that treatment often follows, yet, with a healthy dose of creativity for each person, based on their specific needs.
Recovery is individualistic, and will look uniquely different for each person. If you’re on this journey, I encourage you to practice compassion, kindness and gentle care to yourself as you move through this healing journey.
Peter Levine, in his book In an Unspoken Voice writes,“While trauma is hell on earth, its resolution may be a gift from the gods” (Levine, 2010).
May you experience that kind of resolution.
Fisher, Janina. (2017). Healing the fragmented selves of trauma survivors.New York, NY: Routledge.
Herman, Judith. (1997). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence—from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: BasicBooks.
Levine, Peter. (2010). In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness Paperback.