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Smart goals for trauma treatment

Welcome to a new episode of Trauma demysitifed where we explore smart goals for trauma treatment. Our compassionate host, Natalie, a trauma counselor and trauma recovery coach, brings both professional expertise and personal experience to the discussion, creating a safer space for listeners to unravel the complexities of healing and growth.

Smart goals for trauma recovery

Natalie begins by unraveling the very essence of recovery and describes smart goals for trauma recovery dependent on what happened to an individual. Drawing on their unique perspective as an individual with lived experience, they offers insights that extend beyond clinical definitions, providing a holistic understanding of the recovery process.

Guiding us through the different stages of recovery, Natalie sheds light on the resilient spirit that can emerge even in the aftermath of profound adversity. Recognizing that no two traumas are alike, the discussion delves into the varying complexities individuals face based on their unique experiences. Understanding the complexity is essential to define smart goals for trauma recovery.

Tackling burning questions about recovery from trauma

In addition to the insightful discussion on recovery, Natalie tackles three burning questions that often linger in the minds of those seeking healing. Can we recover on our own, or do we need professional help? Is it normal to experience setbacks in recovery? How long does recovery take? These questions are addressed with empathy and expertise, providing clarity to listeners navigating their own paths to recovery.

Join us for a compassionate and enlightening conversation that aims to empower, inspire, and provide practical guidance for anyone seeking to not only survive but thrive after trauma.

I hope that this episode serves you as a beacon of hope for those on their journey to recovery. Remember, you are not alone, and there is strength in every step forward.

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If you prefer reading, here is the transcript of this episode:

Smart goals for trauma treatment – Transcript

Welcome to Trauma Demystified,  a podcast by Bright Horizon Therapies.  I am Natalie Jovanic, your host on this journey.  In today’s episode,  Thriving after trauma: Setting goals for recovery,  I’m not just sharing insights as an experienced trauma-informed counsellor and coach,  I’m also delving into the essence of the healing journey,  drawing from both professional expertise and my own journey  that I shared in the memoir,  A Brave True Story.

Prepare to be fascinated as we unravel the core of the recovery journey and explore the unique landscapes it takes on in the aftermath of trauma.  I’ll guide you through the nuances,  shedding light on the different trajectories shaped by the nature of what happened to us. But that is just the beginning. Stay tuned as I address the top three burning questions about recovery from trauma, providing you with not just answers, but a compass for your own journey.

This episode isn’t just about understanding recovery, it’s about empowering you with clarity and actionable smart goals for trauma treatment. Join me as we uncover the path to thriving after trauma,  a journey that promises new ideas,  profound insights,  and a roadmap to resilience.  Don’t miss out,  the key to unlocking your own healing awaits.

What is recovery?

Before I explore the complexities of recovery from a counselling perspective, let me share a metaphor that guided my own path during the journey of healing from the effects of childhood violence.

The beautiful lotus flower blooms in the midst of harsh and ugly ponds. Despite its surroundings and with its roots growing in thick mud, this resilient and beautiful flower emerges, showcasing nature’s ability to create something stunning even in the darkest environments.

The lotus flower as a metaphor for healing

Discovering the metaphor profoundly impacted my understanding of recovery. It taught me that beauty can arise even from a history of darkness, independent on what has happened to us. It also nurtured my belief in my resilience and the possibility of transformation. If we have experienced childhood violence or other forms of trauma, we often feel forever broken. However,  this isn’t true. As a Buddhist proverb wisely notes, the lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the deepest and thickest mud. It teaches us that what has happened to us, independent on how society views it, doesn’t define who we are and what’s possible for us.

Antidote to stigmatizing assumptions

This metaphor serves as a powerful antidote to a general perspective of Western societies and Western psychology on trauma. In the realm of Western psychology, the focus often leans towards a medicalized exploration of trauma, emphasizing what is wrong with individuals, rather than embracing a trauma-informed and holistic perspective. It often ignores the strength that individuals who have experienced trauma develop despite of what has happened to them.

While some aspects of this approach can be useful to understand our symptoms and guide recovery,  there is also a risk that it amplifies stigma and fosters a sense of hopelessness and brokenness for people who have experienced trauma.  As both a counselor and individual who has lived experience with trauma,  I recognize the need for a language that nurtures personal growth irrespective of one’s past experiences.  These messages gave me hope and allowed me to transform myself.

Stigma still influencing the counselling field

While trauma-informed practices are gaining traction, there is still much work to be done within the counseling field so that our language refrains from stigmatizing people and cultivates a language that instills hope. I hope that the metaphor of the lotus flower serves as a guiding light on your healing journey,  reminding you that, like the lotus, you too can bloom beautifully from the thickest mud.

Definition of recovery

Let’s look at the definition of recovery.  A generic definition of recovery is provided by the Substance Use and Mental Health Service Administration in the United States.

They define recovery as a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. I find this definition helpful, although it is generic.  In general, recovery is a process of change, and it usually transforms our lives. The idea of reaching our full potential has its roots in humanistic psychology.

We need to keep in mind that each individual has a different full potential. My full potential may look very different than yours. We also need to keep in mind that we live in a society with social injustices that may give some people unearned advantages and other people barriers and disadvantages due to the complex dynamics of oppression. These dynamics can also influence our full potential. While the dynamics of oppression and racism are not okay, they are real in our world.

People who belong to intentionally marginalized groups like Black people, People of Color,  Indigenous people, people who are living with disabilities,  or members of the LGBTQ2S+ community have to carry a higher burden due to the lack of responsibility by the dominant group to dismantle their role in oppression. While our world may have done some small steps forward, there is still a long way to go until we have achieved social justice. Recovery from trauma needs to integrate how social dynamics affect us differently and strive towards learning to use power healthily.

My hope is that the more people choose recovery, the more our world can move towards fully living social justice.

So how does recovery look like in the context of trauma?

Despite of the generic description of recovery, we need to keep in mind that recovery from trauma requires certain additions based on how trauma affects our body, mind, and spirit.

Holistic recovery model

In a very simplistic way, recovery from trauma requires a holistic model that respects what has happened to the individual.  In this context,  the physical,  mental,  emotional,  social,  and spiritual aspects of the individual need to be taken into consideration.  An important part is that recovery from trauma also needs to consider the impact on trauma on our nervous system.

When it comes to spiritual aspects, I am aware that this can be complicated, especially if people have experienced trauma by religions or other faith groups.  So in the context of recovery,  the spiritual aspect isn’t related to any religion or any spiritual concepts. It rather means to reconnect with one’s sense of self, one’s inner voice. The concepts can have many different labels, such as our wise part,  intuition, our self, our essence.  So in the end,  it’s not about any sort of religious practices, it’s really a reconnecting with ourselves.

Pacing matters

Recovery from trauma also doesn’t mean that we have to share our most painful stories right at the beginning or at all. It is done in a gentler way that respects the way how trauma affects us. Many of us have parts that feel terrified by the idea to look at what has happened to us, and that’s okay. Pacing is very important when it comes to healing trauma,  and in general, it’s better to go slower than faster.

Judith Herman – Stages of trauma recovery

Overall, recovery from trauma is divided into three phases, as defined by Judith Herman in the book Trauma and Recovery.  The first phase is about safety and stabilization. The second phase is about integrating traumatic memories and grieving and mourning the losses. The third phase is about reconnecting to the world, to relationships, to integrate post-traumatic growth, to increase vitality and engagement in the world. I will give you more explanation about the goals in the different phases, depending on what happened to us.  

Just keep in mind that very often these phases are not as separate as they sound. For example, some people may reconnect when they are in phase two or when they are in phase one, and other people may start grieving in phase one. So it is not as clearly separated as it sounds.  So I’ve now given you a very generic idea about recovery.  And please keep in mind that every individual has a different journey in recovery.

Respecting what has happened to an individual

Overall,  recovery also depends on the complexity of the traumatic experiences that happened to us.  Before I explain more,  I just want to give you some ideas on how to use this information. I’m mindful that there are stigmatizing beliefs out there for people who have experienced trauma. So the information is not about assessing how broken you are,  but to define the needs for recovery. The beliefs that we are broken if we have experienced trauma is related to stigma. Please note that it is a common misconception. While we may experience distressing symptoms,  none of us is broken and we can heal from trauma.

Avoiding comparison as much as possible

Please also don’t use this information to compare your experiences to others and define who had the worst traumatic experience or who had the best childhood. While it is tempting, I don’t think that it’s helpful for recovery.

In my own life, I spoke with friends about my childhood and the violence I had experienced. Some of my friends mentioned that they had a happier childhood than I. While there was a part of me that would have loved to have a different childhood, I also noticed that this comparison wasn’t useful to get better. I finally let go of this wish that my childhood would have been different and grieved the impossibility of it. This helped me to accept what had happened to me and also to accept how it had affected my life. While it is impossible to change the past, my past did not prevent me from healing and living the best possible life in the present. I’m not saying that it’s an easy journey,  but it is a liberating one.

Overall, I can only carry what is mine and make the best out of it, and other people need to carry what theirs and make the best out of it. Therefore, I’d invite you to refrain from comparison and lean into curiosity to better understand yourself and what has happened to us. Overall,  we all have the opportunity to support each other in our healing journey.

Categories of traumatic experiences

So in the context of this episode, I have divided traumatic experiences into three different categories based on their complexity.

I find them useful because the goals of recovery are defined by what had happened to us and the symptoms we have. I hope that they give you an idea about the possible steps towards recovery. Please recognize that these categories also exist on a spectrum. There are many shades of grey. Therefore, your experience may not fully fit into one box or another and that’s okay. Additionally, these categories don’t integrate the personal growth and healing you have already done. Therefore, please keep in mind that some ideas may not be applicable for you.

Category 1 trauma

Let’s start with category 1 trauma. Category 1 trauma is related to having experienced one or few traumatic events. This can be an event like an accident, a painful divorce, or the loss of a loved one. In general,  the trauma isn’t related to enduring conditions. It is very likely that the individual has explicit memories about what happened to them.

Secure or earned secure attachment

People with category 1 trauma have positive attachment experiences. It is likely that they have secure attachment or earned secure attachment.

So what does this mean? We are likely to have secure attachment as children when we felt comforted in the presence of our caregivers. Securely attached children feel protected and they have someone to rely on. Usually secure attachment also correlates with a wider window of tolerance. Please keep in mind that individuals can transform their attachment style and may have developed earned secure attachment as an adult. Earned secure attachment refers to the attachment styles of adults who experienced insecure parenting but have created secure attachment patterns as an adult.

High capacity to be in the window of tolerance

An individual with category 1 trauma already has the capacity to connect with positive and negative moods and emotions. This means that they are able to be in the window of tolerance while experience strong emotion. They also have healthy self-regulation skills and know how to soothe themselves. If you want to learn more about the window of tolerance, please check out the second episode of the Trauma Demystified podcast.

Just to give you an example,  category 1 trauma could apply to an adult who had a severe car accident that overwhelmed the nervous system. Overall,  the individual has fairly healthy relationships in their lives. They had a healthy enough childhood and is well connected with their emotions. The individual can stay in the window of tolerance while experiencing pain or anger. Additionally,  they are able to self-soothe and go back into the window of tolerance if the nervous system is dysregulated.

Category 2 trauma

Now let’s look at trauma category 2. Individuals with category 2 trauma have experienced multiple traumatic experiences and some of them were interpersonal. It is the trauma happened in a relationship. It is more likely that they have experienced trauma due to enduring conditions and that some implicit memories are present. Implicit memories means that we have overwhelming emotions or body sensations. However, we do not have an explicit event associated with them.

So we cannot connect the body sensations to the event. Often the parts of us that carry these implicit memories feel like they are in danger right now since they can’t discern the past from the present. If you want to learn more,  please check out the first episode of the Trauma Demystified podcast. The environment they grew up in showed some dysfunction or chronic stress. It could be experiences that one caregiver lived with a chronic illness or was using substances.

The individual may have some positive experiences with attachment.  So maybe they have a positive attachment with a grandparent, a caregiver, or a teacher at school. In general,  the individual can identify positive resources or they may occasionally struggle to use them.  So they have self-soothing skills, but they may not always apply them to their life.

Category 3 trauma

An individual whose traumatic experiences fit into category 3 have experienced chronic and early interpersonal trauma, mainly by enduring conditions. Enduring conditions are related to environments that are traumatic. Examples are childhood abuse,  domestic violence,  bullying,  or discrimination.

Dissociation as an adaptive coping skill

They may live with symptoms of dissociations and feel disconnected from their sense of self, which is also an adaptive coping skill to deal with what has happened to them. Overall, they may feel more fragmented to cope with trauma.  They may also have rational parts that tend to minimize the trauma.

Another symptom of category 3 trauma is that this individual can’t talk or remember what happened to them. This is also an adaptive coping skill, and it’s a sign that memories,  whether implicit or explicit, may be hidden behind a wall. And usually this happens when we as children experience trauma. When we are children,  we don’t have the same capacity to integrate trauma or deal with them. So we do the best we can to survive, and we put these painful memories behind a wall. So because in this moment, we cannot look at them.

Common family dynamics category 3 trauma

The family is often absent, chaotic, and highly dysfunctional. The individual may not have contact with their family, often to protect themselves.

Inner fragmentation

People with category 3 trauma may feel disconnected from their sense of self, and it’s more likely that they feel more fragmented and that there are more inner conflicts. Their window of tolerance is likely to be narrower, and they are unlikely to have learned the skills to regulate their emotions.

Personal reflection

So these are the three categories for trauma.  And so just for my own story,  where do I fit in?  If I look at the different categories, I fitted somewhere in between category 2 and 3 when I started my healing journey. I have experienced sexual abuse when I was 3 years old.  And my parents also went through a very painful divorce when I was young, and they started a continuous custody battle.

My mother was living with a chronic illness, and she was in and out of the hospital in the time span when I was 3 to 6 years old. I had one positive attachment figure at this time,  who was my grandmother,  but she died when I was 10 years old.

Overall, I had a disorganized attachment style as a young adult. Generally,  my family dynamic was dysfunctional. My father was emotionally abusive and overbearing,  and our contact wasn’t regular. My mother was largely emotionally absent, and my stepfather was quite manipulative, and there was a threat of physical violence around him. I couldn’t fully remember everything that had happened to me until I was an adult and cut ties with my father. I used to have symptoms of flashbacks, self-injury, dissociations before I started my healing journey. The different symptoms translated into smart goals for trauma treatment.

How to use the categories?

So now, what does these categories mean?  

I find the categories useful to identify our needs for recovery and define smart goals for trauma recovery. They provide you guidance on the areas you want to grow and improve. For example,  expanding the window of tolerance or working towards healthy boundaries are smart objectives for trauma recovery. 

People who have experienced category 1 trauma already have this capacity to a large extent, so they may only need a small adjustment and the smart goals for trauma treatment will look different. Additionally,  it is less likely that they need to work on attachment style or relationship skills due to the trauma that has happened to them. If you have experienced category 3 or 2 trauma, it is more likely that we need to work with attachment,  window of tolerance,  and boundaries. In my professional capacity,  I work mostly with people who have experienced trauma in the category 2 and 3. In general,  I have less clients who have experienced category 1 trauma.

Questions to evaluate your experience

Here are some questions that you can use to guide you to evaluate what has happened to you, and I hope that they just help you a bit assess in which category you might fit.

  • Was a trauma due to specific events or enduring conditions?
  • How was the quality of your attachment experiences as a child? What attachment style do you identify within yourself?
  • What capacity do you have to connect consciously with positive and negative moods and stay in your window of tolerance? Are there parts of you that are afraid of certain  emotions?
  • To which degree do you have symptoms of dissociations and how do they affect your life?
    Please note that some degree of dissociation is a natural part of being alive and being a human being. The question is really how often they happen and how they affect your life.
  • How well are you able to stay in your window of tolerance and to which degree are you able to return to your window of tolerance if you go into a hypo- or hyperarousal?
  • Do you have any regulatory strategies for your emotions like breathing strategies,  mindfulness, grounding tools, meditation or going for a walk?

This evaluation will help you decide what you want to work on and define smart goals for trauma recovery.

So now the next question is: What do we do with this information in our recovery?

Smart goals for trauma treatment in phase 1

So let’s look at phase one of trauma recovery.  As I said before, the main theme phase one is to establish safety and control. This means that the goal is to create safety and stability in the individual’s body, their relationships and the rest of their lives. This includes working towards reducing the symptoms of trauma like flashbacks,  dissociations or the dysregulation of the nervous system. It also includes psychoeducation about trauma so that individuals understand better what happens in their minds,  emotions and bodies.  Additionally, it includes to practice self-soothing skills and learning to practice mindfulness.

Expanding the window of tolerance

The following goals are useful to create a map for your healing journey.  As I explained in the second episode, expanding our window of tolerance is an essential part of healing.  This allows us to be with intense emotions and being able to regulate them. This includes but is not limited to strategies for grounding and self-soothing. While it depends on the individual, this step is likely to take more effort for people with category two or three trauma. People with category 1 trauma are likely to already have built this capacity.

Inner resourcing

Most people have experienced trauma already have inner resources and strength even if they are not consciously aware of them. In phase one, it’s about building the capacity that clients can recognize and tap into their resources. In some situations, it can also be necessary to build new inner resources.

Another thing that happens that we forget that we have resources and skills if you are under stress. In this case, it’s about building the capacity that clients can remember that they have these resources.  So what I often work with my clients is that they really create a list about the resources that they have and how to access them under stress so that it is readily available for them and they don’t need to think about it very much.

Understanding toxic behaviours in relationships

For people who have experienced category two and three trauma,  it often includes relational trauma.  Therefore,  there is a risk that they have never learned to discern healthy and toxic relationship behaviours due to the dysfunctional environment they grew up in.

Just to give you an example of my family.  When I was a child,  I viewed many of the emotionally abusive behaviors in my family as normal since nobody acknowledged that they weren’t okay.  As a young adult,  I found relationships that felt better than my family of origin, though they were still toxic. The older I grew,  the more I learned about toxic and healthy relationships.

This knowledge empowered me to choose those relationships that were healthy. If we grew up in dysfunctional environments,  it is useful to learn about healthy and toxic relationships. This allows us to recognize them and navigate them in an empowered way.  Please note that healing doesn’t mean that you will never again meet a person with toxic behaviours. This is out of your control. It just means that you can respond in a way that is healthy for you.

Empowerment strategies when targeted by oppression

The situation is similar if you belong to intentionally marginalized communities. Due to the systemic injustices,  there are people out there that misuse their privileges and are harmful for people who belong to intentionally marginalized communities.  While these behaviours are not okay, it is important that individuals are able to recognize them so that they can protect themselves and empower themselves as much as possible. This needs to be included as a smart goal for trauma treatment.

Establishing healthy boundaries

People with category two and three trauma have experienced some sort of relational trauma. Relational trauma is in general related to a boundary violation. Depending on what happened to us,  we may have experienced boundary violations of various intensities.  Like when I was young in my family, nobody ever talked about boundaries. Therefore,  it can be helpful to work with boundaries and increase the capacity to recognize and set healthy boundaries. Boundaries are also an important concept when it comes to inner safety. In this phase, it is also often helpful to use visualizations so that you can build inner safety for yourself. All of these areas built excellent smart goals for trauma recovery.

Reconnecting fragmented parts of us

For people with category two and three trauma, it is more likely that they have some fragmented parts. Parts in this context refers to any experience of body sensations,  emotions,  memories or thoughts. If we have experienced trauma, we often exile parts to survive. While it is useful in the moment,  since it’s allowed us to survive, it doesn’t allow us to heal. I’ll explain more about that in future episodes.

As a result, an important part of phase 1 is being able to recognize our parts. Additionally, it’s about reconnecting with them and finding strategies to navigate difficult parts. A long-term goal of healing is to be connected with our essence and be in good relationships with our parts.  While I find parts work useful for everyone, it is especially helpful for people with category two and three trauma. In my own healing journey,  starting to do parts work and reconnecting with my parts really led to a profound transformation of my life.

Another thing that is part of phase one of trauma recovery is to reduce harm and this really depends on what symptoms an individual has.  So this can include reducing symptoms of self-injury,  eating disorders or substance use or any parts of us that re-enact toxic patterns in current relationships.

Conclusion smart goals of trauma recovery phase 1

As you might have noticed, phase one is a really intense phase because it covers many different areas. So in general,  it’s working on our emotions and improving our capacity to be with our emotions. It is about reconnecting with ourselves and our parts. It’s about reconnecting with our boundaries and increasing our inner safety.  Additionally, it’s also working on relationship skills and really reducing harm if you have certain symptoms that are harmful for us.

I would say that in phase one,  in general, I see people more regularly. So it can start on a weekly basis, it can start on a bi-weekly basis, but then over time, since people get more empowered to do their own work and they are more able to really navigate everything on their own, the intensity or the frequency of the sessions will be less and less.

Smart goals for trauma recovery in phase 1

So now let’s look at phase two.  Once people have found stability and safety in their lives and they are able to regulate their emotions, they can choose to move into phase two of trauma recovery.  It may not always be necessary to do it, like some people really find their desired well-being after phase one.

EMDR as a way to integrate traumatic experiences

So phase two is about integrating traumatic memories to release the emotional charge as well as grieving the losses. In my professional experience, I use Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to process these memories. This means that clients can re-experience the memories within a safe and therapeutic setting. It also allows clients to reduce the emotional intensity of the memories until they have fully processed them. The goal of it is to release the emotions associated with the memories. In general,  EMDR can only be used in a safe way if the individual has developed the capacity to be in their window of tolerance when they experience intense emotion.

What I like about EMDR is that people can choose how much they really want to share about their story.  We can do a lot of EMDR and a lot of processing without giving me any sorts of details, so people can really choose their own boundaries on how much they want to disclose.

Grief as part of trauma healing

The other part of stage 2 is to grief the unwanted or abusive experiences and the negative impact on our lives. Trauma is connected with losses.  Some of us may need to grieve the loss of their family of origin. In general, the grieving can also start already in phase one. It may also be a longer-term process if we have experienced trauma due to systemic violence. Systemic injustices still continue to exist after the trauma is healed. At least for myself, as a non-binary individual,  I’m noticing that the grieving of the systemic injustices that gender diverse folks are targeted by is really a step-wise grieving process, and it comes and goes just dependent on what’s going on the world.

In addition to the grieving process of we have experienced, we also need to grieve the good experiences that we did not have, but all children and all people deserve. So, in my own case, I had to grieve the healthy childhood I never had. I also had to grieve that oppression exists and that I will be treated differently just because of my own intersectionality.

Summary of smart goals in trauma recovery for stage 2

The smart goals for trauma treatment in stage 1 are far more focused since the individuals are already prepared for a change. Therefore, it has less objectives for trauma recovery compared to phase 1. Phase 1 is highly influenced by what has happened to us. Therefore the different categories of trauma play a significant role in stage 1. It is a gateway to prepare an individual to successfully go through stage 2.  As a result, phase two is really focused on integrating the traumatic memories and releasing the emotions while supporting the grieving process.

Smart goals for trauma treatment in stage 3

So now let’s look at phase three. Overall, the goal of phase three focuses on reconnecting with people, finding meaningful activities, but also re-evaluating one’s values and beliefs after the traumatic experiences.

If people belong to intentionally marginalized communities, this phase is also about exploring strategies to minimize further harm by society. Just to give you some examples. For people who belong to the LGBTQ2S community, navigating oppression still is an everyday challenge. This won’t change until the dominant group changes.  The same is true for Black people, people of color, Indigenous people or people living with disabilities, and many other people who belong to intentionally marginalized groups.

Therefore, it is essential to build the capacity to navigate these experiences and maintain one’s well-being as much as possible, even though these dynamics are not okay. Since recovery from trauma is a transformation and a lifestyle change, it is also very likely that the individual will continue to maintain the different practices that they have developed over the previous two phases, even after the therapeutic process ends.

Please note that recovery from trauma doesn’t mean that your life will only have positive experiences when you are healed or that you are immune of experiences trauma. However,  you will have an increased capacity and resilience to navigate the messiness of life and be able to trust yourself and your own boundaries. So these were the main goals for the three phases of recovery from trauma.

Top 3 questions about recovery from trauma

So now let’s jump into the burning questions people have when it comes to recovery.

Can I recover from trauma on my own or do I need professional help?

Well,  in general, recovery is a multifaceted inner process that is influenced by many different factors. I would say the more complex the experience was, the more likely people can benefit from appropriate mental health support. In general,  I think that people have experienced category one trauma are more likely to recover on their own.

Professional support depends on the category of trauma

If you have experienced category two and three trauma, it’s more likely that you could benefit from some appropriate professional support. It is common that some of our parts may want to protect us by avoiding the trauma. While these patterns were helpful to survive, it may not be helpful to reestablish our well-being and our wholeness. For example, if you have experienced childhood trauma,  there can be younger parts of us that were overwhelmed by the experience and are scared to look at it. Some parts may believe that healing is not possible. Appropriate professional support can partner with you on working with parts respectfully and deepening your healing journey. They can also help you to gain a deeper understanding of yourself, learn practices to self-regulate and widen your window of tolerance. Additionally, they can be a sounding board to make sense out of what has happened to you.

Professional support needs to be adjusted to your needs

Please note that professional support should be adapted to your unique needs.  For example,  some of my clients do a lot of their recovery on their own and only bring certain aspects of it to the session. Other clients prefer to do most of the work in the sessions because it’s safer for them, because for example they dissociate quickly.  Often people start with more sessions in the beginning but decrease the frequency of the sessions when they feel more stabilized.

In general,  I’d say that it depends on many different factors on how much they can do outside of the sessions on their own.  Overall, I’d say, the more complex a trauma, the more likely is that an individual could benefit from choosing appropriate professional support.  And also the more they can do outside of the session, the more also they can fully take on their recovery on their own.

In addition to professional support, there are also many other practices apart from counselling that can be beneficial for recovery.To give you some options:  they include meditation, yoga,  mindfulness, tai chi, qigong and other martial arts. I personally started seeing meditation and ashtanga yoga during my recovery. It was really very beneficial for myself and also to reconnect with my body. As a result, I’m still practicing it today.

Another question I’m frequently asked is:

Is it normal to experience setbacks in the recovery process?

So the thing is recovery is not a linear process and it’s common to experience setbacks. This can be really frustrating. However, I also see it as an opportunity to grow and increase our self-awareness. I look at recovery like peeling an onion. With each layer we peel off, we can get to know ourselves better and improve our relationships with ourselves. For me, a setback off means that we just need to peel off another layer and there is one about our inner world that we have not yet seen.

Setback while working on goals for trauma recovery

Setbacks can happen for a myriad of reasons. While it is common that we experience them,  it matters that we don’t give up because of them. It’s often really helpful to lean into curiosity and ask us what can we learn from it. For example, I reconnected with a very young part when I was very far into my recovery journey. Discovering this part felt extremely overwhelming and the setback really felt a little bit like a failure. Over time, I really noticed without the setback I would not have been able to reconnect with this part and heal it.

Other example of setbacks that I’ve noticed often happen if the pacing was too fast. It may happen if some parts take over: they just want to move forward and just get over with it. If the pacing is too fast, what really can happen is that we feel overwhelmed.  Other things that might happen is that we touch on an attachment wound that we have not yet recognized and other times it can be that parts don’t feel safe enough or that we are stuck in a conflict.

Please note that these are just examples.  What really matters is to explore what happens for you if you have experienced a setback.

Helpful perspective on setbacks

Another perspective on setbacks was given to me by one of my instructors. She really said that we all have themes in our life that we revisit throughout our lives. She explained that it’s like a spiral and each time we revisit them we integrate them at a higher level. This description really resonated with me because I noticed that I have some themes that really return on my healing journey in different areas. Each time when I work with them again it really helps me to integrate them in a higher level.

And now last but not least one or one very common question that my clients frequently ask me: 

How long does it take to recover from trauma?

Unfortunately I can’t give an answer to this question. I know that this is really frustrating because it doesn’t give any clarity but the problem with recovery is really that it’s similar to the hero’s journey. It is a calling into the unknown. The duration of the recovery depends on so many factors. They include what has happened to the individual and what are the symptoms they are having. Additionally it can depend on their personality and also what are genetic factors and in the beginning some of this may really also be unknown.

Sometimes, people come and they have one experience of trauma they want to work with. However – over time by peeling the onion – we find out that underneath of it were other traumatic experiences. They haven’t considered them because they weren’t in their awareness. Like trauma has happened to them during their childhood for example. So, each individual will have their individual recovery journey based on their story and unfortunately it’s not possible to really give you a clear prediction on how long it will take.

I’m aware that this is really a vague answer however I’d invite you to break down your recovery journey into different goals and focus on the different steps. So, for example, if you are in phase one, one goal could be to expand the window of tolerance or to improve your boundaries. If you break down healing into different goals, the journey becomes more concrete. Furthermore, you can evaluate your progress better.

Take away of smart goals for trauma treatment

So what is the takeaway of today’s episode?  I know this was a lot of information so here’s a quick takeaway of today’s episode. First of all recovery is not linear and may involve setbacks. The journey of recovery varies for each individual. Recovery is divided into three phases as defined by Judith Herman. This phases are encompassing safety and stabilization, integrating traumatic memories, grief and mourning, and reconnecting with relationships and finding meaning.

We can categorize traumatic experiences into three types based on complexity. The factors that are considered are attachment, inner resources, and emotional regulation. The category of the traumatic experience defines the smart goals for trauma recovery.

Common smart goals for trauma recovery in phase 1 are creating safety and stability and reducing trauma symptoms like dissociations. It also includes self-soothing and recognizing inner resources. Furthermore, it tackles understanding healthy relationships, and working with boundaries. Smart goals for trauma recovery in stage 2 emphasize integrating traumatic memories and grieving. It involves processing traumatic memory through methods like EMDR and grieving the losses and impacts of trauma on one’s life. Phase three is about reconnecting and post-traumatic growth. Therefore, the smart goals for trauma treatment concentrate on reconnecting with others, finding meaningful activities, and re-evaluating one’s values and beliefs after the traumatic experiences.

If you belong to intentionally marginalized communities, recovery also includes to find ways to navigate the dynamics of oppression by staying as sane as possible. Partnering with appropriate professional support can be useful, especially if you have experienced trauma in the area of category two and three.

Conclusion

As we conclude this exploration of trauma and recovery, remember that your healing journey is unique and multifaceted. If you have questions, seek understanding, or simply want to share your thoughts, I invite you to reach out.

If you are curious about specific aspects of trauma or recovery that I haven’t covered, or if there’s a topic you’d like to see addressed in the future discussions, I encourage you to share your thoughts. Feel free to send an email to nat@tbrighthorizontherapies.com not only with your questions, but also with suggestions for content you’d like me to cover.

Let’s shape future conversations together and ensure that the information provided resonates with your needs. Your voice matters and I’m here to support your journey.  Looking forward to hearing from you and continuing this dialogue.  Stay tuned for our next episode where we will explore how to find a good counsellor. Thank you for being part of our Trauma Demystified community.

 

Image:

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez  on Unsplash

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