Is creating meaning out of a traumatic event or the recovery afterward a key ingredient in recovery? Every major expert body of trauma or psychological research recommends a three phase treatment protocol, which most evidence based therapeutic models follow. Whether someone is using EMDR, CBT or Prolonged Exposure, the goal of the final phase is to consolidate the gains made by the prior two stages, which featured increasing skills, improving stability and then desensitizing and possibly reprocessing the trauma memory. In this third stage, a trauma survivor will find his/her/hir “new normal,” and construct a new view of the future.
Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who was imprisoned in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Based on his experiences, he theorized that those who were most resilient to the hardship were ones who were able to create meaning out of their experiences. This resonates with several other theories of trauma recovery.
Rape Trauma Syndrome is a three stage recovery model that describes the journey from sexual assault to healing. The third stage is renormalization, referring to a return to someone’s baseline level of functioning. Basically, if someone was able to use coping skills to manage life’s smaller obstacles, then he/she/ze is able to do so again. This level of recovery requires an ability to integrate the event and healing into the rest of one’s story. This means that the event will both recede in importance—no more obsessing over it—but also gain meaning through recognizing the impact that the event had one one’s life. Some people cope with the impact of rape, for example, by sharing their story through pictures or poems, by becoming a volunteer for a rape crisis center, donating to causes that seek to prevent sexual violence, or simply by committing to improve their overall mental and emotional health.
The idea is that no one is the same after a traumatic event, and while many people seeking support just want their old selves or lives back, healing usually involves reconciling the impact of the event with their identities, leaving someone forever changed. Think of a non-traumatic life event: a marriage, a divorce, a major move or the birth of a child. Chances are when you think of who you were before this event it almost seems as though you were a different person. Dealing with any major change, traumatic or no, is hard because it means reconciling our old selves with our new selves. When the event was one that was overwhelmingly negative, it is really tempting to resist the change, which makes it all that much harder to handle. By accepting that change has come, and finding ways to incorporate it into our existing selves, healing can be that much more profound.
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Last reviewed: 29 Nov 2013