A Trauma Recovery Focused Approach
Trauma Recovery Focused Approach™ (TRFA) The TRFA™ operates from the belief that trauma impacts every person, and this is especially true of those who are seeking assistance from mental health and social service providers. However, trauma recovery support and guidance is far from accessible to the people most vulnerable in our communities. Even worse, many of the organizations and services available operate off outdated, ineffective, and harmful practices and policies, leading only to further harm those reaching out for help.
The TRFA™ assumes that every service provider must understand how trauma is experienced in the brain and body. Every provider needs to know how long-term exposure to trauma leads to the overuse of trauma responses, in turn, leading to difficulties in almost every aspect of life. A person who can never feel fully safe will experience the physiological, biological, neurological, and psychological implications of being in a survival state all of the time.
Providers who utilize the TRFA™ learn how to identify signs of trauma exposure, how best to help someone who has been exposed to traumatic experiences feel safe, and how to guide them through the trauma recovery process.
Trauma recovery research is becoming increasingly more common, yet mental health and social service practices continue to operate as if this new information is not available. The TRFA™ offers mental health and social service providers with the knowledge, tools, and skills to translate the latest trauma recovery research into real, sustainable healing.
(For more information about this definition of trauma, go to my previous blog:
Become Aware of Your Physiology First
Before anyone exhibits symptoms of trauma emotionally or behaviorally, they are going to first show signs physically. Likely the most important aspect to the success of long-term trauma recovery, regulating the nervous system, requires us to be aware of what is happening on a physiological level and then to learn how to calm our nervous system.
We can’t teach other people how to self-regulate if we aren’t aware of our own physiological responses first.
Take a moment, right now, to stop and notice your physiology.
How’s your breathing? Slow and deep, or rapid and shallow?
Can you feel your heart-rate? What does it feel like right now?
Where are you feeling muscle tension right now?
Are you pretty relaxed? Stressed? Shut down and disconnected?
What does your physiology tell you about how you are feeling at this moment?
Check in with your body often, several times a day if you are able to remember to do that. Just make mental notes to yourself in different situations and environments. Notice if you experience shifts in your physiology from one experience or situation to the next.
Learn & Practice Self-Regulation Skills
Self-regulation happens when we are able to bring our nervous system into a balanced, calm state.
The window of tolerance, a term coined by Dr. Dan Siegle, describes the window in which our nervous system can respond to stimuli without being overwhelmed.
Essentially, this means there is a certain amount of stress we can handle before our nervous system makes it difficult for us to function in a balanced and healthy way. When we have healthy nervous system function, we can handle a decent amount of stress and still be able to navigate our day-to-day lives fairly smoothly.
However, when we experience trauma, especially when we are exposed to unsafe environments for extended periods of time, that window of tolerance becomes smaller and more difficult to maintain. As we face even the smallest of stressors, we have a difficult time managing our emotions.
When our nervous system gets stuck too long outside that window, we experience symptoms associated with either sympathetic nervous system dominance or parasympathetic nervous system dominance.
Sympathetic Nervous System Dominance
Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) dominance happens when our nervous system stays above the window of tolerance for an extended period of time. The SNS is the part of the nervous system that enables our body to go into fight or flight.
Parasympathetic Nervous System Dominance
Parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) dominance happens when our nervous system gets stuck below the window of tolerance. The PNS operates as the brakes and slows down our body functions. This part of the nervous system enables freeze and fawn responses.
Model Self-Awareness & Self-Regulation
We must learn skills to regulate our nervous systems if we want to successfully navigate life. Many of us learned these skills from our caregivers during the developmental process. Co-regulation, which happens when a caregiver helps a child regulate their nervous system, teaches us how to regulate our nervous system unconsciously and automatically.
For others, and for many of the people around us, this opportunity to co-regulate with a caregiver was never presented. This happens most frequently when those caregivers don’t know how to regulate their own nervous systems.
If we didn’t get the opportunity to learn these skills while young, we have to consciously and intentionally learn them.
In this case, the best way to learn is by observing how others do it. This is why it is so essential for helping professionals to learn and practice multiple skills so we can effectively model them for those we serve.