Trauma or PTSD is one of the most prevalent problems and mental health. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly common and can be debilitating, if not life devastating. While there is a wide variety of trauma, ranging from childhood abuse, sexual assault, violence, or other life-threatening situations, there are common stages in trauma recovery.
One of the “modern classics” texts of psychology is a book by Judith Herman, M.D. called “Trauma and Recovery”. She suggested five stages of trauma recovery in trauma therapy:
1. Establishing a Healing Relationship with the Therapist
A key component of trauma is disconnection from others and an inability to feel safe in relationships. Connecting with a mental health professional in a trusted, safe environment allows therapy clients to begin recovery with assistance and understanding of another party.
2. Establishing Safety
In order to begin to feel safe, it’s necessarily to actually establish physical safety if there is an ongoing threat, such as an abusive relationship. In the case of past traumas that are not currently happening, learning to return to the present moment and identify the current safety challenges the brains assumption that it is still under danger. This can also incorporate visualizations that are reminders of safe places or times or other “grounding” skills. This can take practice. A therapy client needs to be able to feel safe and have their nervous system relax in order to begin to discuss or repair their trauma.
3. Remembrance and Mourning
Trauma is actually a type of loss over what could have been or what shouldn’t have happened. In this stage, therapy clients began to recount details of their trauma and actively grieve what was taken from them.
Trauma disempowers people from feeling that they have control and agency over their life. They need to learn that they can still have control, including the ability to fight and seek justice. This can include feeling safe and comfortable within one’s own body, respecting one’s own emotions and thoughts, or even seeking justice against perpetrators.
Because trauma often creates a sever between the victim and the rest of the social world, it is necessary for them to reconnect socially to the larger world. They must now create a future for themselves that includes creating a meaningful life, while incorporating the trauma as part of their story without it limiting future possibilities.
While trauma recovery is never a fully completed goal, these stages outline the path the trauma victims can embark on to heal and retake their life from the events of their past.