In my last post, I presented reasons why trauma survivors often fail to get the support they need, what it feels like after trauma, how easy it is to misdiagnose trauma and how valuable psychoeducation can be. In this post, I suggest important reminders and a list of things you can do after trauma that will lead you towards trauma integration.
Reminder Number One: Trauma Also Brings Emergence of New Life
The moment that you experienced trauma, your survival system called upon unused personal resources to help you survive and it continues to do so. If you are like most trauma survivors, odds are you barely conscious of the strengths you have already displayed in coping with trauma. These are innate survival instincts that have helped you to hold on to life even at is most challenging and they are an important source of energy in your trauma integration process.
Reminder Number Two: There are Neither Shortcuts nor Miracle Cures
The journey towards trauma integration may take a long time. Therapy requires more than a few sessions. You can often get immediate assistance in managing some of your symptoms, but there are no instant cures. If a therapist promises you quick healing, 100% cure,or full reversal of your traumatic experience, I suggest you find another therapist.
Trauma takes things away from us and some can’t be returned, ever. These are sometimes physically, tangible – people we loved, a body that once functioned perfectly.
Other times, they are emotional, intangible – a sense of uncomplicated wholeness, pristine memories of beloved times and places.
Either way, coming to terms with irreversible loss is an essential part of trauma reintegration. Anyone who implies otherwise makes the journey ultimately harder for survivors.
Good things and meaningful life can and usually do return after the occurrence of trauma, to be sure. But the goal of therapy cannot be return to some state of wholeness imagined to exist in the past, it must be finding a path to deep meaning and inner rest in the post-trauma present, which includes both trauma-related losses and meaningful things that followed trauma.
Reminder Number Three: Therapy Should Make You Feel Better, Not Worse
If you find yourself going to therapy and over and over again, feeling worse rather than better after your sessions or more emotionally flooded after a session than before, something may be off track in your therapy.
Of course, it to be expected that you may often feel flooded during the session. Your therapist can and should accompany you in these difficult moments. It is important, however, that something else happen as well: you should feel reconnected to resources for coping before you leave the session.
Part of a therapist’s responsibility is to make realistic decisions about managing sessions in such a way that you leave feeling supported and more able to manage what is happening than when you walked in.
This response might include a ritual that you create together that connects you to your inner resources or the use of grounding tools, mindful expansion exercises, sensory integration tools, reset exercise*, or breathing techniques.
It might also include scheduling a follow up session or phone call, committing to a contact via email, text, or Skype call, or in really difficult times, referring you for further assistance.
The bottom line — if something is not right for you about the way others are guiding you to work with your experience of trauma, listen to yourself.
You are the only authority on your body and health. Part of the damage of trauma is that it tends to reduce survivors’ ability to trust themselves.