Over the last 50 years humanity has had to come to grips with a reality which has been present throughout our history, but only recently acknowledged. For centuries those who experienced trauma were told to “suck it up” or ignore its effects until they felt better. Those people often were able to push through the experiences which led them to feel traumatized, but never fully recover. As our society continues to learn more about what trauma is, and how it affects us, we must also understand what it looks like to recover from trauma.
Trauma affects everyone differently. An event, experience, or memory that feels traumatic to you may feel like a walk in the park to somebody else. It is vital to understanding how to recover from trauma to know that your experience, and what feels traumatic to you, is the guiding principle of trauma recovery. One roadblock that we run into when treating trauma is simply acceptance that we are traumatized. Often someone will minimize their experience because it is not as awful as their friends’ experience, or as tragic as a story they heard on the news. If you take one thing away from this article please let it be that your trauma, your emotions, and the ways that it has changed your life are valid. However, your trauma does not have to be the defining aspect of your life.
When people go through trauma it becomes their entire existence. The world, and the way we view it, is completely warped by the traumatic experience. Someone who was sexually assaulted will never be able to connect with another romantic partner. A combat veteran will struggle to feel close to anyone for fear of losing them. It is important to understand that the victim of sexual assault is not recoiling from the person in front of them, but in fact the perpetrator of their sexual assault. Someone struggling with substance use isn’t trying to destroy their life, they are trying to do anything they can to avoid the emotions associated with their trauma. In order to recover from trauma we have to recognize the function of our responses to trauma which is to protect us from ever feeling that way again, to keep us safe.
So what does trauma recovery look like? First, we must break the associations that we have to the traumatic events which dominate our daily lives. Trauma is pervasive. It seeps into every aspect of ourselves and warps our thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, and actions. In order to fight back against the effects of trauma we have to see that it is so warping. We have to know that we are not isolating ourselves from our loved ones because we are a bad person, but because our trauma tells us to keep us safe. When we are able to move away from the warped reality that our trauma has created we can start to live life the way we want.
Trauma recovery can be accomplished through many different approaches. Inpatient trauma treatment at a trauma treatment center provides a unique experience. It removes us from our environment which is intrinsically linked to our trauma, and allows us the space to observe how our life is functioning (or not functioning). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) has been the gold standard for trauma treatment for some time now. EMDR is focused on allowing your brain to untangle the mess that trauma has made. It places the trust in you to observe the traumatized system in your brain, and create a healthier dynamic. Much like EMDR, Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) seeks to help you observe your traumatic memories, images, and feelings in your body so that you can keep your experiences, but stop reliving them. Regardless of the approach, recovering from trauma is defined by your ability to acknowledge what happened to you as part of who you are, but not the only factor.
EMDR is a psychotherapy approach that helps individuals process traumatic memories and experiences by utilizing bilateral stimulation. During an EMDR session, the therapist guides the client to focus on a traumatic memory while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, taps, or sounds. This process allows the individual’s brain to process the traumatic memory in a new way, and can lead to a reduction in the emotional distress associated with the memory. EMDR can be particularly helpful for individuals who have experienced repeated trauma or for whom traditional talk therapy has not been effective.
ART is a newer form of therapy that also utilizes eye movements to help individuals process traumatic memories. ART is based on the idea that traumatic memories are stored in a different part of the brain than non-traumatic memories. By guiding the individual through a series of eye movements, ART helps to move the traumatic memory out of the part of the brain where it is stored and into a more adaptive memory network. This process can lead to a reduction in the emotional distress associated with the traumatic memory.
Both EMDR and ART have been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related disorders. These therapies can be particularly helpful for individuals who have experienced complex trauma or who have difficulty accessing and processing emotions related to their traumatic experiences.
One of the key benefits of EMDR and ART is that they help individuals process traumatic memories without becoming overwhelmed by them. Traumatic memories can be stored in the body and can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and digestive issues. By helping individuals process these memories in a safe and controlled environment, EMDR and ART can help to release the physical tension associated with the trauma.
Recovering from trauma can be an incredibly difficult process, but it is an essential task if you want to live your life free from constant fear, pain, and suffering. To begin deep trauma work, a client needs to feel emotionally stable and safe enough to begin processing their trauma. This means that they have to feel secure enough in the therapeutic relationship and confident in their therapist’s ability to support them through the process. The client should have some level of emotional regulation skills and coping mechanisms in place to help manage any overwhelming emotions that may arise during trauma processing.
It’s important for clients to have a solid support system in place outside of therapy as well. This can include family, friends, and other trusted individuals who can offer emotional support and practical assistance as needed. In addition, clients may benefit from having access to resources such as self-help books, group therapy, or a community where they can connect with others who have experienced similar trauma.
Clients should also have a willingness and readiness to engage in the work. Trauma processing can be a difficult and emotionally challenging process, and clients should be prepared to face their trauma and work through it. Finally, clients should be willing to commit to the therapeutic process, which can take time and effort to see significant results.
Fortunately, this is not a challenge you have to take on by yourself. Seeking out the support of a therapist (or a whole team of people at a treatment center) takes a huge portion of the burden off of you, and provides you with the insight and knowledge necessary to recover. Everyone who has gone through trauma deserves to recover from it, deserves to feel like themselves again, and deserves to live a life free from the effects of trauma.
Written By: Jonathan Benn, CSW, Primary Therapist