Understanding Trauma Recovery

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Trauma informed care and trauma recovery have become more of  buzzwords in anti-trafficking and sex worker outreach circles. But what does it mean for care to be trauma informed?

It is generally accepted that trauma informed care and trauma recovery takes place in three stages: stage 1 safety and stabilization, stage 2 trauma processing, and stage 3 consolidation and resolution. Each of these stages can last months to years depending on the severity, duration, and age of onset of the trauma. The stages also may not follow one another directly, with breaks taken between the stages of recovery.

Stage 1: Safety and Stabilization
This stage has two sets of goals that are typically worked on with the help of a counselor or case manager.

1st Goal: Basic Health Needs
Regulation of sleep, eating, exercise
, Management of post-traumatic symptoms
, and   Management of destructive behaviors

2nd Goal: Basic Environment Needs
Living situation
, Financial Security, Mobility
, Self-protection

As these goals are met, the stability is established to enable later stages of trauma recovery as well as a high-functioning engagement with everyday life. We know that stage 1 of trauma recovery is complete when the person has maintained safety, no longer feels isolated, is able to manage destructive behaviors, is able to manage most post-traumatic symptoms, is able to identify support network, and is able to trust people in support network. Many people at this point will be done with their recovery. They may not feel ready or desire continuing in digging into traumatic memories and that is ok. After stage 1 is complete a person is able to lead a full life at a high level of functioning.

Stage 2: Trauma Processing
This is the stage most people think of when they hear “trauma recovery”, however there is a lot of danger in moving on to stage 2 before stage 1 is complete. During stage 2 a counselor works with the person on going through all the traumatic memories and taking the incoherent pieces and working it into a more coherent whole. If stage 1 stability is not present, trauma processing can trigger a relapse due to the intense nature of the memories. Stage 2 trauma processing can last years and it is not unusual to take breaks from the processing. We know that stage 2 is complete when there are no new traumatic memories to process.

Stage 3: Consolidation and Resolution
In stage 3 the primary goal is developing a new integrated self. As the person continues to process what their trauma history means to them, in stage 3 they shift from tasks of recovery to tasks of life. When stage 3 is complete they will have authority over their traumatic memories, be able to control traumatic symptoms, and have a coherent system of meaning and belief that integrates the trauma.

To learn more about trauma recovery attend one of our volunteer trainings or check of Judith Herman’s book “Trauma Recovery”