Healing and Support After Trauma

By Jessica Callahan


After clarifying and expanding the meaning of trauma, it’s time to take a look at Healing and Support. (Please see the previous blog “Understanding Trauma” if you missed it.)


The great news is that healing IS possible! The highlight of my days is witnessing tentative glimmers of hope grow into fully engaged and meaningful lives.  I get to watch as the marks of trauma transform into being only part of the story, with the rest of the pages telling of strength. I firmly believe (and science proves) that humans are innately wired to move towards health and will as long as they have the safety and support to overcome stuck points.


Healing is unique for each individual and is affected by many factors. Is there current safety or ongoing trauma? Are supportive people around? Are there resources to meet basic needs? Is professional help accessible? What are the beliefs and environments of the family, culture, and spiritual community? All of this plus more contributes in positive or challenging ways.


A critical point is that healing takes time and is not about an exact finish line. Expectations about how long healing will take and what it should look like are unrealistic and not helpful. Pressure to “get over it” or “move on” perpetuates shame. In reaction to judgment people may take great lengths to hide what is really going on in order to seem “normal”.  For survivors the ability to feel secure in themselves, relationships and the world has changed. Patience and acceptance, for self and from others, is key.


While the road of healing is not a straight line, here is a glimpse into what’s involved. Safety is of course a prerequisite for each layer of growth.


Stages of Healing


1.     Establishing safety and stability. This is about building external and internal resources and addressing factors that are blocking emotional and physical safety. Firmly rooting in safe environments, supportive relationships, therapy, and mindful self-care provides a foundation where you can build awareness of feelings, thoughts, and body sensations, and respond effectively to your needs.


2.     Understanding your experiences and reactions. Developing an accurate perspective for what you’ve been through, how it has affected you and what you need/deserve now can help unravel shame and other burdens that you carry. This work can involve reviewing (NOT reliving) experiences to put them in a proper framework that honors your resilience, helps you grieve losses, and frees you from distorted self-blame.


3.     Re-engaging in a meaningful life. From the strong foothold of safety, with greater acceptance of where you’ve been and where you are, you can work on living in an authentic and fulfilling way. You can redefine boundaries and values that promote your dignity and put your energy forward into life goals.


No one deserves to be alone in this process and the support of others is critical. Loved ones, therapists, support groups, faith communities, and pets can all be resources to remind you of your worth, be there during challenges, and celebrate in the victories along the way. Don’t hesitate to reach out to others or ask if you aren’t sure where to look for support.


Supporting a survivor


For those wanting to add to healing in a positive way, your support can do more than you realize and it doesn’t require perfection. The best things you can do are…


1.     Be there. An accepting presence who is willing to listen or sit without judgment, advice or pressure is priceless. Trust in your loved one’s ability to recover and don’t feel you need to have the answers.


2.     Be patient. Accept that healing takes time and can have bumps along the way. Continue to believe in your loved one and remember they are so much more than their trauma.


3.     Let them lead. Let them know the door is open if they want to talk, without insisting on anything they aren’t ready for. While talking about the trauma is not always the point, it helps to know someone is ready to listen.


4.     Educate yourself. Being more informed goes a long way to giving you a helpful perspective. Although we can never totally know someone’s experience, sensitive and educated support can reduce someone’s sense of being different or broken.


5.     Practice self-care. You will have your own natural range of emotions to seeing someone you care about in pain and can easily neglect yourself as you focus on helping. The more you are tending to your own needs, the more you can be of help to others.


Remember that survivors were not in control of the trauma, therefore they deserve to be in control of their healing. Support is not about fixing it but about offering a steady presence that reminds a survivor they are seen, believed and valued.


Trauma can seem like the overshadowing part of the story but there are chapters still to write and I believe they can be about resilience and moving forward.


For further understanding:


The National Center for PTSD                   


National Alliance on Mental Health