Today I saw the following question on a LinkedIn group:

As a person is counselled about their difficult trauma, their activity of recall and focus is in itself stressful. So how do you deal with this? How can counsel happen with minimal stress for the person in need?

This is a great question which I think highlights the main reason that people suffering from trauma so often avoid seeking help.

The common perception is (still) that little can be done to help without a painful and emotional recalling of the traumatic events. In fact a recent TV program about military PTSD contained the line “remember guys, the more you feel, the more you heal“. This is completely and utterly wrong and based on misconceptions about old-style therapy. There is plenty of evidence that revisiting the past in this way can further embed the trauma. And most sufferers of PTSD have an intuitive sense that revisiting the events is likely to make them feel much worse, not better – and that is often why they avoid seeking help. However, there are now effective techniques which do NOT require a detailed exploration or sharing of traumatic events.

There are some requirements that must be met before counselling can be effective. The first requirement is that the person suffering must sense that, even though they may have tried everything else, that there is still a chance that effective help exists. In my experience it is those who are utterly convinced otherwise who are the most difficult to help. Fortunately, there is a steadily growing body of evidence and testimonials that back up the reasons to be optimistic.

The second requirement is that the sufferer must be willing to share enough BACKGROUND information to help the therapist get an overview of the situation. Note: This does NOT mean sharing details of horrific experiences. But it does mean revisiting enough of the past to set the context.

The third requirement is that they must be willing to trust that the therapist can guide them through a process that feels sufficiently safe and non-threatening. This is where the skill of the therapist, their training and their willingness to answer any questions about how the intervention is expected to work becomes paramount. Building a level of trust is absolutely essential to the process and some time may be spent building this trust.

Having covered the requirements for effective therapy, I will now try to answer the specific point raised in the question(!)

The technique which can provide effective help overcoming trauma without undue stress is commonly known as the “Rewind Technique” (it has many other names and variations such as the “human givens trauma technique”, “visual kinaesthetic disassociation technique”, “fast phobia technique”). This is an extremely brief description of what is quite a thorough and structured process. Once the therapist has the background context, the sufferer is asked to choose a time and place that represents a relatively safe point “before” the traumatic events occurred. Similarly, an “after” point is chosen – often the point at which the main drama is over and the sufferer knows they have survived. The therapist will then ask the sufferer to give ‘labels’ to the traumatic events. It is quite common for the therapist to know very little about the events that these labels refer to – but they relate to the experiences of the sufferer. For example: “When it all kicked off, first I saw A, then I heard B, then C happened. Later on I remember D…..” This is enough information for the therapist to use to guide the sufferer through the process.

The next step is to guide the sufferer into a state of deep relaxation. There are many ways of doing this and other information will also have been collected earlier to help ensure that this a pleasant experience. Once in a state of deep relaxation, the therapist guides the sufferer through a process which revisits the trauma events A, B, C, D… etc – but (and this is the crucial part!) in a way which allows the sufferer to feel sufficiently distant from the events to feel safe.

This might, for example, be imagining that the events A, B, C, D… etc. are showing on a tiny black and white TV screen which is a long way away so that the details are not very clear. This is an interactive process and the therapist will be looking out for any signs of distress and adjusting the process to make sure that the sufferer feels safe and confident enough to continue. The events may be “rewound” – as in viewed both forwards then backwards several times. Experiences which are previously associated with a sense of horror and shock are thereby “recoded” and become associated with the current bodily state – which is now one of deep relaxation. By stringing the events A, B, C, D… etc into a sequential narrative, the events become part of a narrative memory rather than an unstructured mass of sensory data containing strong emotional triggers.

It is hard to give a full description of the technique – since the precise details will vary from client to client – but I hope this gives enough of a picture to answer the question. It is common for the rewind process to be used several times in situations where there is multiple trauma.

Most clients experience a sense of relief which is sometimes difficult to describe. It is as if the memories are still there, but the emotional punch is taken out of them – so that they can be seen (often for the first time) for what they are: memories of a horrible experience which is now firmly where it belongs – in the past.

The crucial difference is that without the strong emotional “punch” the painful memories lose their previous habit of being reactivated in the present whenever anything happens which may be reminiscent of the those events.

For more information about effective help for trauma (available FREE for all ex-military personnel) please contact PTSD Resolution here:
http://www.ptsdresolution.org