Recovery from Trauma

While symptoms and behaviors of trauma have been discussed in previous posts, we have not discussed how people recover from trauma. Sadly, consequences of being traumatized at a younger age are often not detected until teen or adult years when numerous symptoms and behaviors are realized. Once the determination of trauma has been made, however, the person has a need to heal, recover and rebuild life. This healing process is not easy, but as with most good therapy, an intentional and well-designed plan can help the individual recover.

3 Stages of recovery for trauma victims 

Depressed young man
The first stage of trauma recovery includes inviting the person to reclaim lost power and control.

Judith Herman M.D. is a leading expert in the subject of trauma. Her book Trauma and Recovery is considered a classic. Dr. Herman describes three stages of recovery through which trauma-impacted people typically progress, a paradigm used by most trauma experts.  

Stage One

The central task is to create safety. This includes the obvious establishment of a safe relationship in which the person knows he or she will not be physically or emotionally harmed. It can include developing a plan that provides future protection from harm. It also involves inviting the person to reclaim lost power and control over himself or herself, including participating in plans and decisions for his or her care. The severity and complexity of the trauma, the degree to which it occurred chronically, the individual’s temperament and situational factors, and the age of the person when the trauma or traumas occurred impact how complicated and extensive successful completion of this task will be.

Stage Two

Woman with hands over face
Stage two is accompanied by genuine grieving and mourning for all the losses incurred as a result of being traumatized.

The central tasks are remembrance and mourning. In this process, the trauma-impacted person tells his or her story of the trauma with the therapist or other caring person playing the role of witness and ally. The process of creating the narrative includes descriptions of emotional states with permission to explore painful, overwhelming and confusing questions about why the trauma occurred and why safety and power were stripped from the person. This is accompanied by genuine grieving and mourning for all the losses incurred as a result of being traumatized.

Stage Three

Mother and gothic teen daughter hug
Healing from the adversity of traumatic events is a process that takes as long as it takes—lengthy like grieving.

Once the trauma-impacted person has come to terms with his or her traumatic past, the next task involves reconnecting with the self and the world in order to create a future and a new self. This is the task of recovery in which the person can reclaim his or her world.

Trauma’s recovery process allows no shortcuts. Healing from the adversity of traumatic events is a process that takes as long as it takes—lengthy like grieving. But if done well, recovery is possible. To help traumatized individuals, it is important that we provide an opportunity for healing. They deserve a life that is safe, with potential for personal growth and development so they can reclaim their world.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Information taken from Deepening Trauma Awareness, Diane Wagenhals, 2008.  All rights reserved.  Licensed materials.

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