Many of my clients have experienced trauma, whether it is losing a loved one, getting divorced, or being diagnosed with a serious illness. Traumatic experiences are part-and-parcel of our human experience. They can be the defining moments of our lives, and how we deal with them – or don’t – has a tremendous impact on what happens next. We used to think that PTSD was “incurable;” now we know that healing trauma is possible, and relatively straightforward.
Short term and long term impacts
In the short term, surviving a traumatic experience changes how we see ourselves. We are not as safe, and the world is not as trustworthy, as before, leaving us feeling powerless, isolated, and afraid. The haunting memories of trauma can come up unbidden and disturb our peace, leaving us to wonder if we will ever be at ease.
The longer term impact of a trauma is determined by how significant the trauma was, how many stressors and traumas we have previously experienced, and whether we have resources to help us release the trauma.
There is some evidence that small pieces of a traumatic episode live in our memory in a “hot”, emotion-laden way; they have split off from the rest of the trauma story. These pieces of trauma memory are the grist for flashbacks and re-experiencing. Knitting the hot pieces back into the story as a whole seems to cool them down and helps reduce flashbacks and other trauma responses.
Wishing we could forget
Most people who have experienced trauma try to forget that it ever happened. The problem is that trying to forget is ineffective; forgetting is impossible. Fortunately, there are some very effective techniques to help with healing trauma. They all involve purposefully remembering the traumatic incident in detail from beginning to end.
Here are some strategies that are effective in healing from trauma:
The first three strategies are out-of-the-box approaches to healing trauma that are gaining traction. I have used them in practice and my clients are finding them to be super helpful:
Narrative exposure therapy
NETis a storytelling technique that was created to help people in war-torn countries recover from trauma. In this simple approach, people tell their trauma story in detail, over and over again, until they can tell the story without feeling upset. When I use a version of this with my clients, they become calm and the memory loses its “hotness,” usually in one sitting.
Neurolinguistic Programming’s Trauma Cure
The NLP trauma cure involves some form of watching the memory as if it were a movie, starting before the trauma and ending after the trauma, in fast-forward and rewind. They way that I use it in my practice includes adding a funny element to the memory. This is a brief technique, and my clients find it super helpful. Clients might start out being barely able to tell me what happened, and end up smiling about it. And that is something to smile about!
Meridian Tapping Therapies
Techniques like EFT help to put the trauma highlights into a cool context. In EFT, we tap on meridian points while talking about our emotion. (To learn more about EFT, check out my posts here.) Clients start by telling their story, and as soon as they get to a hot spot, we stop and tap. They move on to tell the next part of the story, and again we tap when they get to a hot spot. I always ask my clients to rate their trauma on a 10-scale, and even if they start out by saying, “it’s a 100”, by the end of our session, they are usually at a “0.”
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: A mainstream approach to healing trauma
The CBT approach to healing from trauma is similar to the narrative exposure therapy described above. With CBT, you the story to a compassionate listener, starting at the beginning and ending at the end. It is an evidence-based approach to treating trauma.
Many paths, same mountain
There are many effective approaches to healing trauma, and they are so simple and effective, it is a real shame that people continue to suffer. Together, maybe we can create a shift. If you know of someone who is suffering, please tell them that help is available. There is a database of EFT and energy psychology practitioners here; there is a list of NLP practitioners here; and Psychology Today has a list of practitioners that is searchable by type of therapy and issues addressed.
Healing trauma is possible. Let’s spread the word.