3 stages of recovery in trauma therapy

Trauma can arrive at any time wholly unexpected and reap havoc in life. Trauma shows up in many ways and is far more than just a terrible personal experience, such as a bad accident, assault, or death of a loved one. Trauma can be existential in what we witness both directly and from the media taking place in the world today.


Acute trauma is processing a one-time event. Chronic trauma occurs when, over time, more than one event contributes to how we internalise life. The impact of traumatic events will be different for each individual and depend on many personal characteristics concerning each individual.

How we view the world will often be shaped by our developmental years. Indeed, this is the case when considering the attachment style we form in adulthood. Trauma at an early age can shatter safety and trust issues and carry over to adulthood.

Trauma can altogether remove any former ideas about safety in our environment. If you have experienced trauma, you may have previously been outgoing, confident, and inspirational. As you read this article, you tell yourself those were the days as you compare your current circumstances.

The first stage

When finding the courage to begin the journey of reconnection, you will seek to feel more stable in your life again. The relationship between you and your counsellor is essential to your therapy success. The crucial role of the counsellor at this stage is to address any anxiety you feel. If you don’t at first feel comfortable, you are fully entitled to search for a suitable therapist until you do. In the profession, we call this a good fit.

It would help if you felt a sense of safety and trust to feel you can talk about your experience when you feel ready. A good counsellor will never rush the presenting issues and will allow you to develop at your own pace from how you see your life. Feeling you can trust your counsellor with what you want to share about your experience is essential once you feel ready. This establishes the foundation for the second stage, remembering and mourning. You might want to move through this stage quickly but reflect that essential word: stabilisation.

Another factor is that you need time to reregulate your body when you have experienced trauma and its associated effects. As the working relationship grows, it is time to work together on strategies to help you feel less overwhelmed and remain within your tolerance window. Once a feeling of readiness in safety has been activated, you will be ready to move to the next level.

The second stage

This is when you address those feelings that have kept you trapped. In naming the trauma that robbed you of your confidence and stability, you begin to take back your power one step at a time. You may have tried to do this on your own without success. 

Counselling is a shared process where you relate your most profound feelings of repression and, in the process, free yourself from the toxic feelings you may have carried for a long time. In this transaction, you take the feelings out of your body and give them to your counsellor, who receives them in a non-judgemental position. A good counsellor will help you realign your feelings to a more authentic you and lay toxicity to rest. The degree to which you confront your past pain is your choice. The more able you open up, the better the healing will be. 

Do you see the sense in taking time to establish stage one now? I always reassure my clients that the work in stage two is all about letting go of the past while preparing for the hoped-for future. There must be a balance between letting go of the past and embracing the future, and you get to set the pace. In this process, we begin to develop and celebrate the importance of being uniquely you and all you wish it to entail. It is acceptable to continue working from stages one and two, a combination of safety and healing. 

Dealing with your current challenges and how they relate to your trauma is essential, including any negativity you feel regarding the event. Together, we can look at how we can reconstruct any toxic feelings into something more acceptable. If you imagine a jigsaw puzzle that looks great and then one day someone drops it on the floor together, we put in the time and effort to put all the pieces back together to allow the complete picture of your future to emerge.

The third stage 

In the second stage, you examined how trauma destroyed the original you. You looked at different methods of overcoming the challenges caused by the trauma that robbed you of your old beliefs. Therapy aims to emerge with a sense of new empowerment as the root of your reconnection, equipping you with higher confidence levels.

If you have followed the reconnection process, you will now have the power to no longer allow every thought to be dominated by what happened, feeling more able to face life from your values and on the terms you look forward to engaging in your life.

Through your efforts, you now have a vision of you going forward with strategies to manage your life that enable you to enjoy life again. Remember, you can always take top-up sessions while you no longer feel so controlled by past events.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London W6 & E14
Written by David Pender, MBACP, Integrative Psychotherapy | Anxiety Specialist
London W6 & E14

David Pender is a mental health advocate/ writer and qualified integrative counsellor registered as a member with the BACP. David has extensive knowledge of anxiety, depression, and trauma. As a coach, David has a range of tools to keep you engaged with promoting your best life. Unsure try a free discovery call from this site.

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