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Preparing to Heal: What to Expect during Trauma Recovery

The Three Phases of Trauma Recovery

In times of horrific tragedy, many of us cling to what we can control. We focus on what we will eat for dinner, if the lawn has been mowed, or finding that pair of socks we’ve been missing. And, that is okay. There are three phases of trauma recovery, and allowing ourselves to fully feel each one is the only way through them. While we focus on what we can control, learning about the phases of trauma and how to help those around us or help ourselves is a productive way to focus our feelings.

Phase 1: Safety and Stability

After a trauma, it is extremely important to help the traumatized person feel safe and for life to be somewhat predictable. The grief and the trauma don’t need to be processed right away; they don’t even need to be understood right away. The traumatized person needs time to breathe and allow their own fight or flight reaction to shut off—recognizing that they are supported. This phase can take days or weeks. During this phase, the person needs to feel loved and supported. That can come in the form of:

  • Lots of physical touch: hugs, a hand on a shoulder, sitting next to each other on the couch
  • Verbal reassurance that they are safe back in their predictable environment
  • Space: some people need to stabilize on their own before they allow others to contribute

For additional information on Phase 1, please visit:

https://psychcentral.com/health/how-to-help-someone-with-trauma

Phase 2: Remembering and Grieving

Phase two is when the actual processing of the event begins. In this phase the person has enough stability to let their mind go to the event and grieve for what happened along with how it changed them. This phase typically involves mourning the loss of innocence of the person they were before the event, actively mourning the loss of loved ones, and processing survivor’s guilt.

Mental health professionals can make all the difference in this phase. Offering support to process the events without sending the person back into phase one is essential. Remembering is going to bring up tense issues, and it is important to do that with someone who has the skills to guide the experience without inflicting new trauma.

To learn more about being the family of a child who has experienced trauma, please visit:

https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/children-trauma-update

Phase 3: Restoring Relationships

After grieving, traumatized persons must return to interactions with the world, even though they have experienced isolation and a loss of power and control. Trauma recovery aims to restore both safety AND empowerment. Months to years after an event, they may still feel they are at the mercy of the universe and scared that another event could occur that will send them right back to the beginning, so reclaiming power is an essential final phase of recovery.

To move a traumatized person on the path to a place of recovery, resiliency training and trauma-informed programs are essential. These help to reestablish our place in the world and remind us that while our experiences are part of us, they are not US.

Learn More

To learn more about trauma-informed care, please visit:

Resilient Educator: Teaching & Self-Care Resources

NCTSN: Age-Related Reactions to a Traumatic Event

To learn more about implementing trauma-informed care into classrooms, please visit:

School Justice Partnership: Trauma-Informed Classrooms

About the Author

Stephanie Taylor, Ed.S, NCSP, Clinical Director, Psychoeducational Services

Stephanie Taylor received her Educational Specialist degree from Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho. She started her career in education as a high school English and Special Education teacher. After several years of teaching and seeing how much impact the school psychologist had on the whole student, she earned her degree in school psychology and began serving a wide variety of students, schools, and communities. After joining PresenceLearning in 2014, Stephanie leveraged her years of experience in education to develop and launch psychoeducational services, aimed at providing School Psychology Services, tele-assessment, and general Behavioral and Mental Health services to vastly underserved students.

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