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The Trauma Experience: Three Phases of Trauma Therapy

Updated: Jan 20

DR. ESSLIN TERRIGHENA introduces the three phases of trauma therapy and what to expect as you are going through them.

Trauma by nature overwhelms our system and can have persistent negative effects on our mental health, including emotional, cognitive, physiological, and behavioural. The goal of trauma therapy is to help individuals to process their traumatic experiences in a healthy way, reduce the negative health impact, and achieve enhanced wellbeing.

There are three phases of trauma therapy that work toward this:

1. Stabilization

In the stabilization phase, the focus in to stabilize emotions and build resilience. The first step toward this is identifying unhelpful patterns in thoughts, emotions and behaviours, and dysfunctional coping mechanisms. This process can be very analytical. We are looking at how some of these patterns and coping modes developed, including childhood experiences, and how they may be interfering with your wellbeing in the here-and-now.

In this phase, we identify what core needs you have that may not be adequately met at this time, and introduce techniques that can help to meet these needs and manage emotions more effectively. This may involve trial-and-error. Trying new techniques, observing what effect they have, and deciding on which ones work best for you. We focus on a combination of self-soothing, emotional observation, and needs-meeting through behavioural activation.

2. Memory Desensitization and Reprocessing

In the desensitization and reprocessing phase, we identify memories from past trauma that cause distress or that trigger unhelpful reactions in the present. We work with each of these memories to help process the feelings, physical sensations, and negative automatic thoughts or behaviours that have arisen from them. The next step is to create meaning from these experiences and develop adaptive helpful beliefs that can get us un-stuck from our trauma patterns.

3. Integration

In the integration phase, the gains from therapy and trauma processing in a therapeutic setting are increasingly implemented outside of therapy in day-to-day life. Here, we ask you to observe changes that are occurring for you and to make deliberate choices in implementing more resilience strategies and behavioural changes that bring you closer to your goals. The trauma processing and adaptive beliefs are integrated into a new version of yourself.

In some way, these phases are intended to be linear and one phase aims to be completed before moving on to the next phase. In reality, however, we may go back and forth between phases as new things emerge and as daily life happens. That is the normal course of therapy. You will see improvements as you go along and put in the work, feel some set-backs, find some things hard, find some things easy, learn new insights, and overall move closer to your goals and better wellbeing.

To find out more about how trauma therapy can help you recover from past trauma, book a consultation with psychologist Dr. Esslin Terrighena, please contact (852) 2521 4668 or

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