Trauma is a popular topic these days, and rightfully so! We’ve desperately needed a robust, public conversation about this for generations. I am very encouraged at the number and diversity of trauma educators, therapists, social workers, healers, and other helpers who have come forward during this increasingly volatile time. It is important to note that not all helpers are healers, but in our current reality we truly need all hands on deck (Ryan Kuja does a beautiful job of describing the helper and the healer here).
Oddly enough, there are some downsides of having so much trauma information available. Some might be memoir-based influencers offering advice with no training, or social media support groups without moderation from helpers or healers. But I think the primary downside is that we may be confused about what exactly to do for ourselves at any given point on the journey. Do we need a helper, or do we need a healer? Do we need both? And, how do we embrace ourselves where we are in this moment, without shame?
One of my teachers, Linda Thai, is both a helper and healer, and she introduced me to the concept of Phase-Oriented Trauma Treatment for C-PTSD. This has been especially helpful for me in differentiating the phases of complex trauma recovery, and where coaching and therapy fall within them. Because coaching and therapy are two very different approaches; furthermore, very few coaches and not even all therapists are actually educated or experienced in healing trauma!
I see the Phases like streams: sometimes they are linear but often not, and for some of us we may slip from one stream to another even within a single session. There are a few different approaches to phase-oriented healing for C-PTSD. The three Phases below I credit to Linda Thai (as learned during her course on somatic embodiment and regulation strategies), but the way I describe them are my own take on what that stage looks like between me and my coaching clients.
I hope this information is helpful for you as you’re determining which helpers and healers you want to work with at any given point in your healing journey.
Phase One: Symptom Stabilization & Resourcing
During this stage, the primary goal is to build a sense of safety (this is external–safe relationships, safe environments, etc.) and a sense of safeness (this is internal–what does it feel like to be safe in my body, to have an internal refuge, etc.). This involves a lot of curiosity (the antidote to shame), education, support, encouragement, practice, and building trust. It also requires us to examine the context you are in regarding intersections of privilege/oppression. Because trauma doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and neither does healing.
We come to ourselves with a posture of curiosity, in effort to expand our self-compassion (or learn it for the first time). We learn about polyvagal theory and the autonomic nervous system, ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and other ways trauma forms, systemic and generational trauma, and how to create and hold healthy boundaries. We identify needs and brainstorm ways to meet them that align with our true self (easier said than done!). For clients who are deconstructing their religion or faith, we often explore toxic theology and how to heal from its effects, and address any concerns around high-demand, high-control religious environments.
We learn and practice mindfulness of emotion, mindfulness of our body sensations (interoception), and learn to listen to the stories and metaphors of our dreamtime. I am always learning more about plant medicine, so for some clients we may discuss herbal supports. We also learn and practice various somatic regulation strategies, which are gentle movements and breathing techniques that help you manage stress and support yourself in accessible ways. I love empowering my clients with things they can do on their own between sessions!
Phase One is all about organic trust and intuition, because our connection with each other is imperative to any healing progress that occurs. We co-create sacred space in this way. I often do energy work with clients, including soul retrieval, ancestral work, and energy alignment. Coaching is very client-driven, in that you’re taking a much larger role in the direction and process than you might in a therapeutic relationship (depending on the helper/healer and their modality; more on that in Phase Two below). I am your healing partner, and while I may offer guidance and insight, this is your unique journey.
Phase Two: Trauma Reprocessing
This stage almost always requires a mental health professional, someone who is highly trained and experienced specifically in trauma reprocessing, to direct and assist you. I have training in EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques tapping), and while I personally have found it to be effective at this phase, EFT does not currently have nearly as much evidence as some other modalities that I’ll list below. (Here is an article on recent EFT research done in the UK if you’re interested.)
So, I highly recommend and encourage you to learn about these widely researched and accepted modalities. I’ve benefited from several of them in my own healing journey. This is just a starting point for you; I’ll keep updating the list as I learn:
Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy
EMDR and/or Attachment-Focused EMDR
Holographic Memory Resolution
Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy
Neuro-Affective Relational Model
Safe and Sound Protocol
Phase Three: Integration, Grief, Attachment
This is the phase when we might begin deep dives into the self, and for this I love the Enneagram and ancestral work (including, but by no means limited to, genealogy and DNA testing). Every Phase involves a lot of acknowledging and confronting systemic injustice and oppression, but I see this happen most frequently in Phase Three. To integrate, we have to complete stress cycles that may have been left unfinished within us. A lot of that work tends to happen in Phase Two, but in Phase Three we might start to see it unfold communally. This is the good work of collective healing. (I created a meditation guide that I frequently go through with white-bodied clients in this Phase.)
And… we do a lot of grieving together. Inevitably, all healing work involves grief–when we learn something we wish we had known “back then,” we grieve. This is an ambiguous loss that we may grieve together, along with other ambiguous loss such as the death or change of hopes and dreams, grieving what we thought our lives would look like, grieving the loss of our ecosystems, the disconnection between ourselves and our culture and ancestors, and so forth.
But one of the beautiful parts of this is that as we grieve in the context of community, we find ourselves growing in secure attachments: secure attachment to our very self, secure attachments with our chosen family members and neighbors, secure attachments to our ancestors and their ways, secure attachments to the earth, and secure attachment to Spirit/Higher Power/Creator/Great Mystery/God (this of course looks different for everyone).
I hope this article has been helpful for you as you’re discerning what is the next right step for you on your healing path. If you would like to meet with me to see if we’re a good fit for coaching, I would love for you to schedule a free 20-minute Zoom call with me. And, if you know someone who might be looking for a healing partner or who might like this article, please send them my way!
May you find hope and beauty on your healing journey!!
Disclaimer: While most clients find our time together therapeutic, I am not a licensed mental health care practitioner and I do not provide psychotherapy or mental health treatment. During our intake process and subsequent plan we develop together, I will refer you to therapies, counseling, coaching, legal, and/or medical help as necessary.
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