Four Powerful Tools to Transform Trauma
by Courtney Armstrong, LPC, Certified Rapid Resolution Therapist
1. Visualize desired responses rather than focus on existing responses
The subconscious mind is very responsive to sensory specific images whether they are imagined or real. Thus, replaying the horror of a traumatic event over and over causes the mind to react as if the event was still happening.
Alternatively, as a person imagines what resolution would actually look and feel like, deeper mind begins moving towards a more adaptive response. For example, a woman presents to therapy complaining of panic attacks, nightmares, and depression after a traumatic date rape. I would express compassion toward her and an interest in understanding how this has been for her.
However, prior to having her describe the details of the trauma, I would suggest we create a “model” of what’s desired. For example, I might ask her to imagine a woman who has been through a very similar traumatic experience. I might say, “She felt as awful as you did. But, now her mind has been reorganized so she is feeling calm, at ease, powerful, and fully present in this moment. She didn’t like what happened, but is now utilizing the wisdom, strength, and insight she gleaned from the experience and applying that in her life now. Her mind is moving toward what has benefit and possibility in the present moment.”
2. Intend emotional presence to the current time and place
Old exposure techniques had the client describe the trauma while feeling all the fear that went with it. However, neuroscience research suggests the brain can’t appropriately integrate and resolve a traumatic memory while in an active flight/flight state.
Intending to stay “present” helps the mind realize the traumatic event is no longer happening. This realization keeps the brain from over-activating the fight/flight response, allowing for proper memory integration. Staying present also aids in the formation of new neural networks and associations.
3. Create new meanings using metaphors, symbols, and stories
After a traumatic event, people often attach distorted meanings about themselves, others, or the world. Creating new meanings through use of metaphors, symbols, and stories is very effective and powerful. This is because the subconscious mind responds better to sensory images than to words.
For example, people who have been traumatized often voice feelings of shame and helplessness. You might try to convince them with words that these things aren’t true. Yet, consider the effect of the following metaphor instead:
“Think of a time you saw something beautiful, or had a sense of peace, awe, or excitement. Let’s think of that experience as bringing to your awareness who you really are, your true nature, your essence. Now, we can think of your essence like a beam of light. Nothing can harm a beam of light. Someone can shoot at a light beam, or curse at a light beam. Yet, that Light keeps on shining. Someone may have messed with your body, or your stuff, but they didn’t touch that Light. That Light can only be touched by love that you welcome.”
4. Practice Mindfulness
A good deal of research is demonstrating that we can literally re-wire our brains by engaging in mindfulness practices. Mindfulness practice activates new neural connections that mediate signals from our emotional brains.
Many people develop mindfulness skills through regular practice of yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, or contemplative prayer. But, you can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere.
In simple terms, mindfulness is the act of observing what you are thinking, feeling, or experiencing without judging it. The more you practice mindful awareness, the more you will notice an increased ability to be calm and less emotionally reactive.
Courtney Armstrong is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in trauma therapy and has a practice in Chattanooga, TN. She leads workshops for mental health professions in Rapid Resolution Therapy and other creative therapeutic approaches. To contact Courtney, visit her website at www.courtneyarmstronglpc.com. Visit Courtney’s blog at http://traumatherapyalternatives.com.