Helping a Partner, Relative or Child who is Recovering from Trauma

Trauma can be described as a mental injury that is stored in the body and the brain. It’s an experience that overwhelms our natural ability to cope effectively. Managing the symptoms and daily experience of trauma recovery can be a constant battle, for both the survivor and those around them. Here are some information about the traumatized brain and tips for supporting your loved one in an effective way and creating an environment for healing and connection after trauma.

  • Trauma changes to way that neurons fire, the connections made, and chemical and electrical signals sent through the body. Repetition of care, safety, and regular sensory input in a positive environment, through a positive relationship leads to changes in the brain.
  • All learning is experiential and in the context of relationships, be flexible and adaptable to retraining the traumatized person’s responses, triggers and sense of safety
  • Structure, routine, and providing a sense of control can ease some of the daily symptoms. Set the individual up for success through these tools and involve them in creating it.
  • The positive neural effects of a relational reward (hug, positive comment, supportive activity) lasts about 8 minutes for a child, 30-60 minutes for an adult. How can you add more to support change?
  • Brain growth and new neural connections (neuroplasticity) can occur at anytime over the lifespan. But it can only occur only when the child or adult feels safe and secure, able to relax hyperarousal and/or dissociative (vigilance or numbness) in order to create new neural pathways. Trauma most impact lower brain functioning including self regulation, fight/ flight/ freeze responses, heart rate, breathing, temperature control, and emergency response. You can access this part of the brain, and help healing and growth happen, by using sensory interventions including rhythmic repetitive movement, patterned breathing, exercise, bouncing a ball or squeezing a toy, massage, jumping etc.

-Angie Gunn, LCSW

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