Traumatic memories can linger long after the trauma is over, leaving clients with the feeling that the threat is still present.
So in the video below, Ray Rodriguez, LCSW-R shares how he worked with one client whose traumatic memory was being triggered by current events.
He’ll walk you through the exercise he used to help her gain a sense of control over the memory so that she could begin to process it during their sessions.
Have a look.
First, by creating a healthy distance from it. Then we can see the traumatic memory, the traumatic activation, but you now have control in the here and now how much you want to lean into that.
One way we did that was through the use of the imagination. “Oh, we can put that traumatic memory,” because it’s very charged for her, “in a box. And so imagine a box where you can put this traumatic memory into and that traumatic memory is going to be stored in this box, in this container, and it’s going to be safe there. And notice what happens in your body now, as we know now that that traumatic memory is stored safely in that box.”
And the client reported feeling better, “Oh yeah, that feels better. I can see it, but it’s there.”
Then we began in subsequent sessions to lean more into that traumatic memory. “So what’s one little thing from that traumatic memory that’s in that box that we can work on today?” We can take that small sliver of that traumatic memory and we can begin to move through the activation of it in the present moment. And so once we show that small sliver, we notice what her experience was in her body. For that particular client, it was an experience of being in school and her not having mastery over English and feeling very lost in an English-speaking school. And her feeling very small, feeling like she was frozen. And what was happening in the moment, in our session, was that there was tension, that she was like constricting in her body. And we noticed that together, how that memory of that moment in school was generating a present moment activation. And so, we challenged that experience.
“So what if we help your body, right now, expand a little bit? Find more grounding in the chair. If we rolled your shoulders up and back and notice what happens as you remember this memory.”
“Oh, it feels better. I have a little more clarity about it. It doesn’t feel as challenging or activating.”
And so we moved through that memory in a similar fashion, moving into the activation, with enough sense in the present moment of feeling grounded, of feeling resourced. And that supported her processing of this one sliver that had been very activating for her now, and that was coming for her in the present moment too.
To get more strategies for working with traumatic memories, have a look at this short course featuring Bessel van der Kolk, MD; Peter Levine, PhD; Pat Ogden, PhD; and other masters in the field of trauma.
Now we’d like to hear from you. How do you help clients process traumatic memories? How might you integrate Raymond’s approach into your work? Please let us know in the comments below.
If you found this helpful, here are a few more resources you might be interested in: