Phase 2 of the three-phase approach is the aspect of trauma therapy that is most geared towards facing and resolving the intrusive traumatic memories that plague a trauma survivor’s life and manifest in forms such as flashbacks, physiological dysregulation, avoidance, numbing and re-experiencing.
When trauma survivors try to talk about what happened to them, often it is triggering and destabilising to do so. The three phase approach to treating trauma takes this into account. Phase one focuses on safety and stabilisation and this articles explains what is involved.
I want to fight her, I really do. She’s just not rising to it.
‘I see your suffering,’ she says, the words melodic and gentle. Now she’s looking at me, and she’s evidently not scared of me. She’s wiping down the space between us with tenderness. ‘Tell me about your suffering.’ Something about her softness breaks my aggression and I look down, and sigh. There’s pain in that sigh. It burns to breathe in again.
‘How can I help you?’ the therapist asks me. ‘What do you need from me?’
I look at her closely, examining her features, whilst also looking through her, to make sure I don’t connect too closely.
First the fear: Is this a trick? What does she mean? What does she want? Why is she saying this?
Then the shame: What right have I to be helped?
And afterwards, the sadness: No-one has ever offered to help me.
Three emotions in three seconds.
‘If I could just get over it, I would,’ I say, and I’m trying not to sound irritated or hurt but I’m not quite sure what emotion my face is displaying and my throat is tight and my fists are clenched and really I’d rather not be here, and neither am I convinced that I’m a good enough actor to hide all of this.
‘Christmas is optional!’ I announce, loudly and excitedly and with an uncharacteristic degree of gusto, at the beginning of my session. We haven’t even sat down yet. Mostly sessions begin with a tense stand-off as I battle within myself to be present.
The therapist’s eyes widen. I can tell she’s wondering if I’ve switched to another part. In particular I have one whom I call ‘Play’ who is larger-than-life and copes with social occasions for me. She is skilled at banter, although not so skilled at reading social cues and divining if its recipients are edified by it. But this isn’t ‘Play’. This – surprisingly – is me.