An important aspect of trauma therapy is desensitizing, reprocessing and/or discharging the trauma. How this is done depends on the type of trauma, and it is only one part of the therapy, but it is the part that seems to inspire the most anxiety for people coming to address trauma.
A competent therapist will not spring it on you
You should feel in control and aware of what is going to happen. While there’s no replacement for the actual experience, your therapist should be able to explain to you what the processing experience will look like logistically at least (i.e. “First we will do this, then I will ask you that”).
It’s not like a flashback, where you’re completely out of control
The illustration above shows why therapeutic exposure to trauma is helpful. You stay in the window of tolerance. That is, the activation that results from reliving the event is not as out of control as the original experience. Instead, it is re-experienced with new knowledge, coping skills, control and the knowledge that you are currently safe, which allows your brain to reprocess the event in a new way.
It requires some preparation
Most protocols require some preparation prior to this, especially when the trauma does not stem from a single incident. The therapist must ensure that the client can stay grounded, that is not bail, while processing. The client must have some ability to regulate their activation, otherwise the exposure isn’t any different than a flashback
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Last reviewed: 30 Dec 2013