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Psychological Trauma Recovery 101

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By Ryan Lane, Director of Children, Youth and Family Services

The typical definition of ‘trauma’, which means ‘wound’ from the Greek language, is whatever overrides our capacity to cope. We can imagine that, with such a wide definition, trauma is a relatively common occurrence. When this happens in our life, like any wound, the trauma needs the proper context in order to heal. When we get a cut on our body, the wound needs to be cleaned, the bleeding stopped, and properly covered so it can slowly heal over time, especially without scarring.

This is an excellent metaphor for what needs to happen for psychological trauma, as well. Which begs the question: what is that healing context? What does that healing look like, and what can happen if that healing doesn’t happen?

So, what is the proper context for healing psychological trauma? As I like to say to my team, the answer to almost every question in psychology is: Well, it depends. This is a playful way to encourage curiosity towards someone who has experienced trauma, and what they might need to recover. There are some basics to attend to in general.

After a traumatic event, predictability, safety, and comfort are both key. Returning to a place where events and people are safe and predictable support mitigating any additional harm and allow someone to begin the often difficult process of addressing what happened to them. For a younger person, it’s extremely helpful for the caregivers to address the trauma, as well. This would be akin to cleaning the wound for a child. A caregiver consoling their child, speaking to the trauma directly, and supporting the child back to a place of security and healing are incredibly helpful. Underscoring all of this is acknowledging that the trauma was not their fault, and that they are not alone in their recovery process.

Another important part of trauma recovery is trust in another person. The ongoing studies of Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) is an incredibly in-depth look at the lifelong effects of these events on our physical and mental health. While they look at the negative effects, they also identify the biggest factor for bolstering ourselves against the effects of trauma. It’s not a certain medication, lifestyle, or even type of therapy. The number one helpful factor regarding trauma: trusting relationships.

One study specifically cites two or more trusting relationships in our lives greatly reduces the risk of several mental and physical health disorders. These can be any sort of relationship in which you feel safe enough to be heard in your pain. Whether it’s a caregiver, a family member, a friend, or a therapist, a safe space to talk about our trauma and feel what we need to feel with someone is the medicine needed to heal this kind of wound.

Overall, safety, trust, and the courage to engage this work are the main ingredients to heal from past psychological trauma. Healing from trauma often shows up as the ability to acknowledge that, while something harmful has happened to us in the past, it is a part of our history that no longer defines either our present or our future.

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