Finding a way to heal following a traumatic experience – what does research tell us?

A couple of weeks ago I read what I can only describe as a truly beautiful piece of research that explored what helps people to heal from traumatic life experiences. Scott and colleagues (2017) asked six GPs to suggest patients that they considered to have healed incredibly well following trauma. 23 of these patients were then interviewed by researchers who asked them to describe what had helped them to heal. The patients had been through life changing experiences such as sexual abuse or being diagnosed with HIV.

I found reading about the experiences of these patients incredibly moving and I thought that the article did an amazing job of sharing different ways to heal after difficult events. I have attempted to highlight some of the strategies that the patients used as part of this blog post, but you can read the full journal article that inspired this post for FREE here.

The occurrence of a traumatic event will effect people in different ways and to a different extent.  The impact of the event was shown to depend on the type of event, the relationships of who was involved and at what age the event happened. Anyone who has ever dealt with a traumatic experience such as the death of a loved one for example, will know that healing is not straightforward process.

The patients described their healing as a ‘journey’ that was unpredictable at times, and although they were not “cured” from their trauma, the authors of the paper identified common strategies that had helped patients to find a sense of ‘wholeness’ and to thrive despite their difficult circumstances.

So if you, or someone you know is going through or has gone through a traumatic experience, here are some strategies that were suggested to help with the healing process.

  1. Connect with others
    Reaching out was felt to be crucial for healing, be it to friends, family, God, healthcare workers or my personal favourite – pets. Realising that they were not alone in their journey made a massive difference to patients.
  2. The importance of safety and trust
    The presence of relationships where the individual could feel safe and trust the other person was felt to be incredibly important. Attending support groups could help the individual to talk openly about their experiences. If you are supporting someone through their healing process do not underestimate the huge impact of small acts of kindness and the importance of compassion and acceptance.
  3. Reframe
    Admittedly, this step can be extremely difficult to do in a bleak situation but the patients interviewed noted that they found great comfort from trying to see their suffering from a positive perspective. Some patients found it helped to surround themselves with positive people who could help them to see things in a different light even when they struggled to do so themselves.
  4. Take responsibility
    This step can sound a little harsh almost especially when these experiences were not the patients ‘fault’, but the patients talked about taking responsibility for their healing by appreciating that healing was going to take work and persistence. Saying that, the researchers made it clear that patients thrived when they remained hopeful even when times were hard and when patients accepted and viewed themselves as a valuable person.
  5. Help others
    Some patients found sharing their strength and experiences to help others facing similar situations to be especially rewarding. Some patients went into caring professions such as social work, in order to make a positive difference following a negative situation.

As I mentioned, I thought this research was truly beautiful and I hope that by sharing some of the researchers’ insights here briefly, that this may help you or someone you know to stay remain hopeful on their journey.

These steps may not “cure” anyone from their traumatic experience, however, the researchers believe that following these steps helped the patients to “transcend suffering and to flourish”. I truly believe that healing is possible for everyone if we persist and look for the people who want to help us to heal, because trust me, they exist.

I hope you found this post useful, and if you did, I’d be so grateful if you could share it with your friends and family. I would also encourage you to read the full research paper which can be accessed for free here.

As always, thanks for reading.

Love,

Chrissy x

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