Please note: This post contains suggestions for healing from traumatic events. When undertaking work of this sort, there is always the possibility for destabilization of ones emotional state. Trauma work should be done under the supervision of a psychotherapist. Though I have tried to speak about the following healing elements in general terms, indicating that aspects of them can happen in casual relationships and support groups, for any specific individual it can be unsafe to try to deliberately do what I describe here without professional help. Do grow…but do it safely!
For many, the process of healing is confusing, scary, and seemingly out of reach. After watching the healing process in hundreds of lives, I’ve drawn some conclusions.
Part of what has to happen in recovery from trauma has to happen within the person. Trauma treatment for the past 20 years has included such wonderful contributions as EMDR, and more recently, an emphasis on mindfulness, Internal Family Systems Therapy, and neuroscience. All of these can help.
However, part of what needs to happen in trauma recovery is often interpersonal, particularly when the trauma happens in childhood. After all, many of the traumas themselves are interpersonal, such as sexual abuse. As a result, the healing will have significantly interpersonal elements also.
Here is a rough outline of the interpersonal side of the healing process as I have observed it. The format in which this happens can vary widely, but these elements seem to included in some way.
- The person is able to identify and acknowledge in some way that a trauma actually happened.
- Ideally it is safe enough to remember the trauma without excessively destabilizing the person. Developing an understanding of emotion managements skills and some perspective on how the nervous system responds to trauma can help. Timing is also important, and the process shouldn’t be rushed.
- Also, having a healthy spiritual connection to a higher power can help, along with an understanding about the nature of suffering in humankind. This can take some time to develop also, but need not take “forever”.
- The person is able to feel their feelings in their body (enough) to express them to others in a context where that is expected. A workshop about healing is a perfect place, or a group therapy. It can also happen in individual therapy, in a variety of support groups, and within friendships.
- An important aspect of this is the sense that those who hear are not overwhelmed by what they hear–that the person’s experience does not drive others away. This is one reason why this often happens better in a group with a well-trained leader. In a group there will always be those who understand.
- A visceral expression of emotion is also important…whether is is crying or anger. Art can be useful, or role plays that express the emotions in safe ways.
- Support is expressed by the group. Acknowledgement that they, too, have experienced something similar, or understand the person’s pain and fear, is important. Expressions of sadness and compassion about what happened to the person help. Hugs, eye contact as feelings are expressed, and a sense of not being alone in the experience are all important.
- Part of the message a trauma survivor needs to hear is that they were not responsible for the trauma happening. This is especially true in cases of neglect and abuse, where the victim is so prone to blame themselves. In other cases where they somehow participated in bringing about the trauma (i.e., an adult driving unsafely) it is acknowledged that it is a common thing that happens, and that they are not especially “bad” because they had a traumatic outcome from their error that others have not experienced.
- In any case the compassion and support of the group must be received by the person in order to be effective. A deliberate awareness of the sincerity of the group and direct eye contact is important. The love and support must be “let in” by the person. Again, hugs and safe touch can be important, if the person is comfortable receiving them.
Several “applications” of this can make a huge difference in life-altering traumatic experiences. I have occasionally had clients who have simply been unable to feel the old feelings of shame and depression after just one experience of this type of work–particularly when done in a workshop. One experience of healing will not “fix” a childhood, of course, but the elements included here can offer real progress.
Whether you experience the elements listed above in a workshop or some other setting, you’ll find help in addressing traumatic experiences. Remember, what is described above does not replace individual work with a therapist, and must be done in a safe manner to prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed and potentially harmful to yourself. Healing is not out of reach, but it takes courage, perseverance, and a reasonable approach.
Mariah Fenton Gladis, in her excellent group gestalt work, also uses the group to re-enact what she calls exact moments of healing. Her workshops embody the elements I describe here, and in addition, if they wish, the person working is also provided a role play of what should have happened to them instead of what did happen. The person is engaged in an effective re-enactment by the group of someone stopping the abuse or preventing it, for example, as an expression of compassion and recognition of their worth as a person. The healing from such an event is powerful, and she presently offers her workshops 5 times a year in Pennsylvania. Of course, evaluate for yourself if this or any other workshop is likely to be of benefit to you, and attend at your own risk. See the above note about the potential for some forms of healing work to be destabilizing. If you are unsure about attending an active workshop, discuss the situation with a therapist first.