Healing from Trauma
Though psychological trauma can have
"Going down to MDC was the last thing I wanted to do after being sexually assaulted... but because of the support around me, I started seeing a trauma specialist. With her help, I was able to begin the healing process and learn to enjoy life again. It was the best decision I could have made, and I'm stronger for it." - Anonymous USNA graduate.
What will it look like?
Trauma symptoms generally occur in a cyclical manner, with triggers like anniversaries or analogous situations reigniting symptoms or mood states that may have receded or been easily managed for a time. Often times thoughts or behaviors that were believed to have been “gotten over” come back, and generally there are frequent ups and downs in mood. This is the expected course of recovery and is not a failure or evidence of “moving backwards.” Because this is so difficult, however, people often wish they could completely forget about or “just move on” from what happened. This is completely understandable but not effective for healing, and, in fact, being told to “just move on” creates a greater impediment.
How am I supposed to get "better"?
While nothing short of a time machine (*not currently available at MDC*) can undo what has happened in the past, one of the ways therapy works is by helping to integrate traumatic experiences into the overall narrative of a person’s history so they do not have as much power to intrude into or dominate the present and expectations of the future. This can be approached and achieved from multiple modalities, including:
- Mindfulness and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral techniques to manage symptoms and increase emotional regulation.
- Development of the therapeutic dyad (in other words, your relationship with your counselor) to build and explore trust, boundaries, self-worth, and healthy relationships.
- Abreaction/processing of traumatic memories
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Creative expression
- Support groups
Along with some form psychotherapy, therapeutic body work (such as acupuncture or massage) and yoga or other forms of physical activity can be integral parts of the healing process. Depending on symptom severity and type, some people may benefit most from combining psychotherapy with a psychiatric medication.
Find the courage to seek out help:
Many fear that counseling or therapy for psychological trauma requires endlessly focusing on the traumatic experience and recounting it repeatedly in excruciating detail. This would actually be harmful and counterproductive to the healing process, as it is more likely to result in retraumatization rather than to support integration, particularly if one’s symptoms are overwhelming. The first phase of trauma therapy is centered around establishing safety--both physical and emotional--and generally focuses on symptom management techniques, psychoeducation about the impact of trauma, and establishing self-care. Some people may choose to end or suspend treatment if their symptoms have decreased without ever going deep into past trauma experiences and that is absolutely okay. At the MDC, you and your therapist would work together to establish the course and goals of treatment that will be most helpful to you, knowing that every individual brings a unique set of needs, strengths, and experiences. If you are not sure about whether this is a good time for you to engage in therapy, you are welcome to meet with a counselor to discuss your questions.