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 mis-diagnose 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 hard 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 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.
If you are in such a place now, perhaps your next step is to find someone that you trust to be a resource in figuring out the right kind of help for you.
Things you can do after trauma
A good therapist is a great gift, but not everyone has the privilege of availability of such a person and the money required. Still, you can do a lot of helpful work on your own, with or without a therapist:
Doing your own psychoeducation is a good place to start. Read as much as you can about stress and trauma. A good grasp of this is priceless - it will enable you to recognize and make sense of patterns and behaviors that previously seemed random. Use self-help guides like this one or this one to gain more information about what is happening to you and to identify what triggers you and how to maintain yourself.
Learn about different trauma therapy approaches. There are many. Pick one or several that appeal to you and read as much as you can about them.
Get tips on how to choose the right therapist for you.
If you can’t afford therapy, try to find a support group, online group and or a clinic that offers subsidized or free services.
Establish routines of self-care and self compassion. There’s no trauma integration without it so make it a theme in your life. Learn how diet and nutrition effect your symptoms and how small modifications can make a big difference in how you feel.
Experiment with physical and mindful activities like meditation, yoga, art expression, dancing and movement exercises. These have been demonstrated to be effective in mitigating post trauma symptoms and also facilitate neuroplasticity (change and growth in brain synapses and pathways).
*Reset exercise: If a sense of flooding persists, try this “reset” exercise: Ask the participant to jump up and down (as fast as they can) 10 times and then sit down and (preferably leaning back on something). Then have the participant take five long, slow in-breaths, (each about four seconds long, then held for one second before releasing), breathe out long and slow (for about six seconds).