Three Phase Treatment of Childhood Trauma
By: Angela Englander July 28, 2015
Stage 1: Establishing a sense of safety and emotional wellbeing
In order to heal from trauma a person must gain a sense of safety, without this feeling of safety a person may continue to be in the fight or flight response and their brain and body will continue to be focused on survival. When survival is the priority, gaining skills and feeling happy are not important to the brain, as long as the person survives the crisis. In traumatized people, the feeling of being in a crisis does not end.
There are a variety of ways to establish emotional wellbeing, often they involve gaining the skills and experiences that were missed in the individual’s childhood. Emotion regulation skills and emotion expression skills are commonly linked to childhood trauma, they are also linked to many mental illnesses.
Emotion regulation skills and emotion expression skills are naturally gained through a technique called mirroring. The child will model their emotions based off their primary caregiver and the way the caregiver expresses their own emotions. When these skills aren’t gained in childhood they can be learned through a number of therapeutic techniques including: dialectical behavioural therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, and skills based trauma treatment techniques. If you go to http://waystowellbeing.ca/links-resources/ you will be able to view a chart that discusses emotions and ways that emotions occur naturally.
Stage 2: Working Through the Traumatic memories and body memories
Often people who have experiences traumatic events continue to hold onto part of those events in their body, their emotions, their mind, or the patterns they live out. In order to let go of the trauma and put it in the past they must work through their memories of the trauma and challenge the physical sensations they may be feeling as well as the life patterns in which they may live out their trauma. By validating the traumatic experience and not avoiding the thoughts and feelings they associate with the trauma they can accept it and it won’t need to keep being a theme in their present life.
It is important to have completed the first phase of trauma treatment so that the traumatic memories, intense emotions, and physical experiences will not be as overwhelming for the patient. It is important for the individual working through their trauma to be safe and not at imminent risk because of the feelings that come from discussing their trauma.
A variety of exercises can be used to work through trauma, they include: discussing memories, role play, using toys or other objects, doing art, and creating a story to tell the trauma that has been experienced. Using many of these techniques a patient can rewrite their story allowing them to relieve themselves of guilt and understand their role in healing. They can also explore different perspectives about the trauma and move from being a victim to being a survivor. These exercises also allow the patient to explore their false beliefs about the trauma and about themselves and establish a healthier way of thinking. Having healthier beliefs will increase the patient’s self-esteem, sense of self, and feelings of safety.
Stage 3: Establishing connections in the community and a network of support
Through making connections in the community the patient will be able to get more involved and start having positive relations and connections with other people. By having positive experiences with people a sense of connection and safety can begin to develop and trusting relationships can be formed. This also helps with the feelings of being separate and alone that have been associated with some traumatic experiences.
The other major benefit of having a support network in the patient’s community is that the patient will have a smooth transition once therapy ends. The patient will be able to connect with people and find support when they need it. Having friends and community connections may also help prevent future mental health challenges and trauma reactions because the patient will not feel like they are alone and having to take on their weight of their traumatic experiences on their own.
I hope you have enjoyed this article! As always feel free to e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think. Also feel free to share any comments you may have in the section below. I wish you well on your healing journey!
Reference: Herman, J. (1992). Complex PTSD: A Syndrome in survivors of prolonged and repeated trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 5(3) 377-391
Herman, J. (2009). Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence- from domestic abuse to political terror.