4 Ways to Build Resilience Between Trauma Therapy Sessions
Trauma therapy is hard. It peels the scar tissue of old wounds, exposing the raw tender flesh open for anyone to poke and prod at. At times, it may feel like fracturing a bone that was once broken before and healed incorrectly. Making us feel debilitated, the feelings of healing tangled with hopelessness — an unpleasant paradox to embody. At times this hope speaks up with the reminder that this pain is the path to healing and growth, that big transformation requires feeling uncomfortable. Undergoing trauma therapy builds resilience. The resilience is built between sessions, without the presence of your therapist. Here are some ways to cope with the difficult feelings that arise between trauma therapy sessions:
1. Binaural Beats
Specifically for those undergoing eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, bilateral stimulation helps calm the nervous system. It is one reason we tap or move our eyes from left to right in sessions. The movement of sound from the left and right ear can simulate the eye movement and tapping this modality is built upon. It is calming meditation-like music that brings your focus from left to right. There are many binaural beats playlists on Spotify and a free meditation on Youtube that I highly recommend. These relax and soothe the nervous system, helping the difficult feelings pass and bring about the feeling of safety.
2. EFT Tapping
It is common between sessions, when our wounds are poked, to go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Emotion freedom techniques like tapping helps soothe the nervous system. This practice targets specific points or meridians on the body linked to Chinese medicine that when tapped can bring us back to a more regulated state again. Here is a guided tapping session hosted by Marie Forleo in video and podcast form with Nick Ortner.
3. Safe Place and Container
These techniques are taught before undergoing EMDR therapy. They are usually done at the end of the session to regulate the body again and “contain” the arousal within the session (and not take it with you as you leave your therapist’s office). I found it very helpful practicing it in between sessions. Here are short, guided safe place and container sessions by Notice That — An EMDR Podcast meant to help calm the nervous system and contain thoughts regarding trauma. It is also a great podcast to learn more about the process of EMDR.
Moving the body helps. It can be going for a long walk to see the sunset, it can be dancing by yourself or practicing ecstatic dancing (a practice where you move intuitively). When animals are in stress being chased by a predator, they sometimes play dead (freeze). What is observed is that once the threat leaves, they shake uncontrollably. It is a mechanism to release the energy built up from the fight-or-flight response. If we do not fight or flight (run) in response to the sympathetic nervous system activating, that energy is stuck in our bodies. Like animals, to return to homeostasis, we must release that frenetic energy in our bodies by moving. This can be done by walking, exercising, somatic yoga or even shaking. There is a structured shaking process called trauma releasing exercise (TRE) or an unstructured shaking process where you actively shake your body. Do not be surprised if emotions arise from this; release them and ensure you are in a place you feel safe when undergoing these practices.
These practices helped me along with the usual self-care of journalling, tea, hot baths and being with loved ones. If there is interest I will be creating part two of this article, with more coping mechanisms. An important thing to note is there is no one-size-fits-all in healing, so explore and curate your own toolbox with things that work for you. Remember that true healing is often difficult and messy. The path to healing requires us to feel the pain in order to transform it. These tools help the pain be slightly bearable but often the pain needs attentive attention, and the best thing to do is lie down hugging a warm blanket and crying until the feelings pass. Listen to your body and what it needs throughout the healing journey, and know that the bigger the feelings, the deeper it carves into your heart, creating greater space and capacity to feel not only the bad, but the soon-to-be good.
Photo by Kevin Wolf on Unsplash