Ten Steps to Healing From
By Martin V. Cohen, Ph.D.
Whether you have been a crime victim, involved in
an accident or natural disaster, or were the victim of childhood abuse, the
resulting trauma is similar. Pervasive fear and feelings of helplessness are
natural reactions to events you probably had little or no control over. I
was totally traumatized, and I thought I was going to die,
are among the most often used phrases used to describe such occurrences.
Unfortunately, trauma and the stress that follows, is on the rise at the turn
of the new millenium in America.
Fortunately, there are ways to overcome the
aftershocks of traumatic incidents. A cluster of symptoms
consisting of (1) Persistently REEXPERIENCING the event (e.g.,
flashbacks, nightmares, etc.), (2) AVOIDANCE (e.g., avoiding people,
places or activities that trigger memories of what happened) and (3)
HYPERAROUSAL (e.g., jumpiness, feeling on edge, irritability, etc.) can
be treated effectively with the following steps toward healing this condition.
In 22 years of practicing psychotherapy, specializing in treating trauma
victims, Ive seen them work.
1.-- Recognize that your symptoms are normal
reactions to abnormal circumstances. Although you may feel like you are out
of control or going crazy, in reality, you are experiencing what
are called post-traumatic stress symptoms.
2.-- Talk about your thoughts, feeling and
reactions to the events with people you trust. Then, talk about it some more.
Keep talking about it until you have no need to talk about it anymore.
3.--Do whatever it takes to create a feeling of
safety and tranquility in your immediate environment. Do you need to sleep with
a night light on for awhile? Can you develop a discipline of meditation or
listening to soothing music?
4.-- As much and as quickly as possible, resume
your normal activities and routines. Traumatic events can throw your life into
a state of chaos. The sooner you resume these activities and routines, the more
normal your life will feel. Structure can provide feelings of security as you
etch your way back to stability.
5.-- You are in a recovery process. Give yourself
the proper rest, nutrition and exercise. If you were recovering from the flu
you would not forget these health tips. Do the same for yourself as you recover
from traumatic stress.
6.-- Take an affirmative action on your behalf.
For example, if you were a victim of crime, prosecuting the perpetrator may be
an empowering experience. If this is not an option for you, write in your
journal. Strike out at the perpetrator with words. Take some action on your
7.-- Become aware of your emotional triggers and
learn to cope with them creatively. You may have a flashback to your trauma by
engaging in a similar activity, going to a similar place, seeing, hearing,
smelling, tasting or feeling something that reminds you of the original trauma.
One way to cope with this is to recognize that you are experiencing an
emotional trigger and engage in positive self-talk (e.g., This is
frightening but I am safe now.)
8.--Try to find some deeper meaning in what
happened to you. True, you were victimized but you can become a
survivor. Survivors often find that changes in their outlook on life are
possible, even preferable. What have you learned from your traumatic
experience? Record these insights in a journal or voice them in a support group
that is sympathetic to your situation.
9.-- Seek therapy. Psychotherapy, particularly
with a certified EMDR practitioner who specializes in trauma, is often very
effective in helping people overcome the aftermath of trauma. If you cant
stop thinking about what happened; if you are always feeling anxious and on
guard; if you find yourself avoiding your normal routines or if you are
experiencing some of the other symptoms of post-traumatic stress, you can
probably benefit from professional help. The EMDR International Association can
give you a referral to a certified EMDR practitioner in your area
(www.emdria.org), telephone (512) 451-5200. If you were a crime victim, most
states offer victims assistance to pay for psychotherapy. For more information
call the National Organization for Victim Assistance at (202) 232-6682. In
California, call the Victims of Crime Program at (800) -VICTIMS (842-8467).
10.-- Be patient with yourself. Healing takes
time. Your recovery will have its ups and downs. Follow the guidelines in
this article and know that you are in a recovery process that will take time.
Remember, you may have been victimized but you do
not have to continue being a victim. In this unfortunate case you were rendered
helpless but to continue in that status is very limiting. By following the
steps outlined above, you will emerge as a survivor. Your traumatic experience
can make you a stronger and wiser person. The potential is there for you to
learn and grow in ways you may not have considered had the trauma never
© 2000 Martin V. Cohen, Ph.D.