The call comes in the middle of the night.
A tragic accident.
The devastation and betrayal of domestic violence.
In one stunning moment, your friend, colleague, church member, or loved one’s life has changed forever. And they’re turning to you for help. What do you do?
It can be difficult to establish priorities in the pain and chaos of the moment. But professionals who deal with trauma tell us that it’s important to establish priorities for healing for those who experience devastating life events. The simple acronym PTSD can help you remember what those priorities should be.
Your first goal for someone who’s experienced trauma is to reinforce their shattered sense of safety. Reassure them that their fears, confusion, and anxiety are part of the trauma process, and provide appropriate measures for their comfort and safety.
Someone who’s experienced trauma will have difficulty managing the normal routine of life. Encourage them to maintain as much of their routine as possible–eating, sleeping, and caring for themselves. It’s natural that they may need time off from work or other responsibilities, but encourage them to engage with life.
T REDUCE TRIGGERS AND TRIPS
Someone who’s experienced trauma will be triggered by the environment where the trauma occurred, as well as sounds, smells, images, objects, and people who remind them of the event. Triggers can cause wide-ranging symptoms: reliving the event, nightmares, anxiety attacks, loss of appetite, nausea, headaches, dissociation (zoning out), obsessive-compulsive behaviors, insomnia and other symptoms. As much as possible, reduce exposure to triggers, but understand that it’s impossible to control triggering events. Triggers are part of PTSD. Here are a few suggestions for managing them:
- Comfort techniques: pet your dog, listen to music, curl up with a blanket, take a bath, pray, call a friend,write or create art, go to a favorite place
- Distraction techniques: read a book, watch tv, call a friend, watch TV or a movie (calming or uplifting), exercise, take a walk, clean
Someone who experiences will also dissociate, or “zone out” to escape flashbacks or troubling memories and emotions. Sometimes the person will feel numb, as if the world is floating past them. To help ground them and keep them focused on the present, ask them to: Name five things in the room. Suck on candy or drink something cold. Stroke something with texture, like a pet. Sniff pleasant scents. Repeat words or phrases.
S REFILE THE STORY
The second important stage of addressing trauma is helping the person process their traumatic memories and story. The memories have become “stuck” in the right side of the brain and need to be delivered to the left side through trauma treatment. One means of doing this is by having the person create a written story of the event, accompanied by drawings. This helps the person produce a unified narrative of their experience that becomes filed in their brain as an event that happened in the past. Trauma stories are also processed using other methods.
D DEEPEN UNDERSTANDING
Once the trauma has been processed, the final stage is for the individual to deepen understanding of themselves, of their experiences, and richer understanding of life as they gain wisdom and resilience from the experience. This is done as the individual as the person re-evaluates their story in light of new knowledge and wisdom. For the Christian, this means apply the perspective of the Word of God. Writing and meditation on Scripture can often be a key component of this process.