by Josh Pitre
As the waters recede and we begin to pick up the pieces, it appears that the shattered parts of our lives start to come back together. Harder to identify, may be a deeper psychological trauma that has been created by the tumultuous situation. The emotional distress caused by storms, floods and other types of natural disasters often goes unnoticed until the chaos subsides and our lives begin to settle. Sitting in the turmoil, thoughts may intrude asking disturbing questions, seeking answers to ideas surrounding God’s presence in the midst of this hardship, or even doubting his regard for His children. As we begin to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually, we have to revisit the moments of anguish and address the questions that interfere to fully recover from these experiences. Just as the waters came, rose and abated, so must our emotions as we engage them in a healthy manner.
When thinking about emotional recovery, there are three phases to consider. These stages, as described by Dr. Judith Herman in her book “Trauma and Recovery” (1992), include: Safety/Stabilization, Remembrance/Mourning, and Reconnection/Integration. As these phases are experienced, it is important to remember that no one is expected to navigate them alone. Each person wrestles with these steps differently and at varying paces, but the process for each survivor is the same. In knowing each level, and having the ability to recognize the process, no one will need to experience the journey without guidance. Having the knowledge to identify the stages in one’s own self or someone else can increase the community necessary to support one another.
During Safety and Stabilization, one who has experienced trauma may have difficulty regulating or coping with everyday emotions. For example, while searching for something as insignificant as ChapStick, someone with a history of normal emotional responses may dissolve into tears. While processing through traumatic events, it is important to remember that listening will prove to be the most healing thing we can do. Offering advice and trying to “fix it” does not allow the person experiencing the trauma to grieve. Take into consideration that their reaction is related to a greater trigger and not the current situation.
Remembrance and Mourning is important to allow the survivor an opportunity to share their story. This phase may be done with friends, family or a professional therapist. During this phase, we can best support those who have experienced trauma through empathic listening. We must remember that everyone experiences trauma differently. An individual mourning after a trauma may include recognizing the loss that occurred. For one person the grieving may be concrete, such as the devastation of their physical home, or more abstract, such as loss of security. Identifying the ending of some aspect of a survivor’s life before the trauma and taking time to feel the weight of the contrast, can pave the way to reconnection.
Reconnection and Integration is experienced when an individual is able to move past the event and begin to visualize their life on the other side. This does not demand that the person is “over it” and no longer reflecting on the trauma with emotion. However, the circumstance has less control and debilitating triggers for the survivor. This stage is a period of rebuilding and embracing a life tainted by the event, but not destroyed.
Each person is able to navigate these phases at varying paces, and each journey is individualized. The most helpful way to aid those touched by trauma is providing encouragement and support as they traverse the path of recovery. A survivor experiencing the process must have grace with themselves and allow pain to be present. The method necessary to fully heal may require wandering through the destruction wrought by the event — for only then will true cleansing occur.
Josh Pitre, MSW, LCSW
Josh is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He has worked with many populations internationally and locally. He first became aware of his passion and desire to help others while in high school. Since then, he has traveled to China, India and Venezuela to support and counsel those in need. He currently serves as Dean of Students at a local Charter School were he works closely with students and their families to ensure that not only their academic, but also social and emotional needs are being met. Josh and his wife Allyson also offer therapeutic services through Veritas Counseling Center, a means to provide affordable counseling to the community. To learn more about Josh and Allyson’s counseling services, visit the Veritas website at www.veritascc.org