May 6, 2023

Surviving to Thriving: Understanding the 4 Phases of Trauma Healing

There’s a lot of talk on the ‘gram and TikTok about healing from trauma, but what does it actually mean, and how do you even do it? Despite how it might be portrayed on social media, healing from trauma is a complex process that involves various stages or phases. 

While everybody goes through these phases in their own way and in their own time, these phases are commonly recognized as the vital steps to moving past the pain and trauma and into healing and integration.

As a therapist in Washington, I have the privilege of helping guide my clients through these phases of trauma healing. In this blog post, I’ll talk about the different phases of healing from trauma, as well as what you might expect from each phase.

Phase 1 of Trauma Healing: Safety and Stabilization

Before we can heal, our bodies and minds need to know that we’re safe. This is why the first phase of healing from trauma is all about creating a sense of safety and stability. For some people, this means removing themselves from a dangerous situation, and for others, it means helping their bodies and minds trust that they’re no longer in the dangerous situation that they’ve left.

Before safety is established, we often feel scared, anxious, and vulnerable, and this can lead to behaviors or defense mechanisms that we develop subconsciously to keep ourselves safe. As a trauma therapist in Seattle, when my clients enter phase one of trauma healing, we work together to create a safe and stable environment, both physically and emotionally. This safe base helps them feel secure in moving into the next phases.

How Do I Create Safety in Trauma Healing?

  • Working with a trauma therapist who is well-versed in the healing stages and methods of helping you move through them safely.
  • Building coping skills such as relaxation techniques, grounding exercises, and other forms of self-care. The goal here is to feel more grounded and in control of your emotions and body, so that you can begin to process your traumas.
  • Cultivating or strengthening a support system. This might mean connecting or reconnecting with family and friends who you trust to provide emotional support and encouragement. If that’s not available to you, it might mean seeking out support groups that connect you with others who have experienced similar traumas.

Phase 2 of Trauma Healing: Remembering and Mourning

The second phase of healing from trauma can be most difficult, but is equally as important as the rest. During this phase—remembering and mourning—individuals begin to confront and process the traumatic experiences they have endured.

As a therapist, I like to make sure my clients understand it’s totally normal to feel scared, sad, overwhelmed, or even angry during this phase. Memories and emotions that your mind has worked hard to keep hidden might resurface, and it’s understandably challenging to know what to do with these intense feelings when they come up.

That’s why it’s important to take things one step at a time during the remembering and mourning phase. When you work with a trauma counselor during phase two, there are a variety of things that might come up, including:

  • Acknowledgment of your trauma, which might mean talking about their experience, joining a support group, or finding other ways to explore and validate your experience. 
  • Mourning your trauma, which can involve mourning for the loss of your sense of security, trust you had in someone or something, or mourning the loss of your innocence.
  • Emotional responses, including anger, sadness, grief, relief, confusion, curiosity, or even despair.

The remembering and mourning phase is challenging, without a doubt. It’s also an important part of the healing process. With compassionate support and resources, you can move through this phase and emerge with a greater sense of self-awareness, self-compassion, and resilience.

Phase 3 of Trauma Healing: Reconnection

In the third phase of healing from trauma, I help my clients find ways to reconnect with the world around them, and build a new sense of identity. This often involves learning to trust again as they rebuild relationships, try new experiences, and find ways to create a meaningful life despite the trauma.

There are a variety of ways to reconnect during this third phase, including:

  • Reconnecting to the Self, including finding an internal sense of purpose, meaning, goals, identity. This might also be a place where we strengthen coping skills that incorporate safety of body and mind.
  • Reconnecting to others. This could be repairing damaged relationships or forming meaningful new connections with others. Through social support and meaningful relationships, clients often begin to feel a sense of belonging and connection, which is like a supercharger for trauma healing.
  • Reconnecting with the world around us through nature, art, creative expression, exploration, and involvement in like-minded communities.

Phase 4 of Trauma Healing: Integration

The last phase of healing from trauma is called integration. In this space, the focus is on incorporating your traumatic experience into your whole life story. Most importantly, you begin to view the trauma as something that has happened to you, but not necessarily something that limits or defines you. 

As a trauma therapist, when my clients reach this phase, our work shifts away from pain and towar radical acceptance of the trauma, while looking to the future with a new sense of purpose and identity.

Many folks who find themselves at the integration point find new and more compassionate ways of treating themselves, while finding hope for what lies ahead. Some ways they do this is by…

  • Taking control of the narrative, which might look like reframing negative beliefs they have about themselves or changing negative self-talk that developed as a result of the trauma. It might also look like identifying strengths, living by their values, and making progress toward the goals that align with their authentic self.
  • Building self-compassion and acceptance by releasing self-judgment and criticism and embracing a more compassionate and loving relationship with oneself
  • Sharing their story and experiences with others in a way that is empowering and healing. This can include advocacy work or other forms of activism, as well as being an active member of peer support groups or other supportive communities.

It’s important to note that the phases of healing from trauma are not a one-size-fits-all process, and the amount of time it takes to move through these phases depends on your unique story, experiences, and readiness to address the traumas from your life.

Trauma Counseling in Seattle

As a trauma therapist in the Seattle area, I’ve worked with many clients on identifying, understanding, and ultimately finding healing from trauma. I know how hard this process can be and would be honored to help you find your way through the phases of healing from trauma.

To learn more about trauma counseling in the Seattle area, contact me for a free consultation to see if I’m the right fit for you. I can’t wait to meet you!

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