Phase I

Safety and Stabilization

People affected by trauma tend to feel unsafe in their bodies and in their relationships with others. Regaining a sense of safety may take days to weeks with acutely traumatized individuals or months to years with individuals who have experienced ongoing/chronic abuse. Figuring out what areas of life need to be stabilized and how that will be accomplished will be helpful in moving toward recovery. For example:

  • A person who has experienced trauma may struggle with regulating or soothing difficult emotions in everyday life which they might not associate directly to the trauma.
  • Learning how to regulate and manage these difficult/overwhelming emotions.
  • Some people who experienced trauma, particularly complex trauma, may find that speaking about their experiences emotionally overwhelming. Recently, both therapists and researchers have been exploring nonverbal ways to foster emotional regulation. Several studies have suggested that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) groups and the use of acupuncture for clients with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) reduces negative emotions and promotes a more calm appraisal of life situations (Hollifield, 2007 and Davidson et al, 2003).  There are other types of self soothing practices such as meditation, deep breathing yoga, Chi Qong as well as other spiritual and cultural practices and ceremonies that have been shown to be effective in soothing the nervous system.  Refer to the topic on Mindfulness and other related topic areas. These practices work well with more traditional talk therapies allowing greater stability throughout recovery. Auricular Acupuncture has the added advantage of reducing cravings for alcohol and drugs as well as promoting better sleep and clearer thinking among clients who receive it regularly (Stuyt, 2005). It is also well suited for supporting work with refugees and immigrants in that it is nonverbal and closer to the methods of traditional medicines found in a variety of cultures.

Metaphor for creating safety:

The experience of emotional overwhelm is similar to that of a shaken bottle of soda. Inside the bottle is a tremendous amount of pressure. The safest way to release the pressure is to open and close the cap in a slow, cautious and intentional manner so as to prevent an explosion. (Rothschild, 2010)

"Everyone has a right to have a present and future that are not completely dominated and dictated by the past" - Karen Saakvitne