‘It is the closest thing to magic.’ Trauma techniques that can help people through hard times

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IDAHO FALLS — Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a bad accident or injury, or even abuse or assault — there is a decent chance that a person will experience trauma during their lifetime.

People experience trauma for a variety of different reasons, and the experience is a little different for everyone. But in general, trauma comes from a shocking and/or dangerous event that a person observes or directly experiences, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. As a result of trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop.

It’s a much more common phenomenon than many people realize. Roughly seven or eight out of every 100 people in the United States will have PTSD during their life. About six of every 10 men and five of every 10 women experience at least one trauma in their lives, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports.

“With trauma, our brains can become like a skipped CD, so it doesn’t run smoothly,” said KayDee Martinez, a social worker and counselor at Tueller Counseling in Idaho Falls. She says it’s important for those that experience trauma to work through the issue.

Thankfully, there are countless techniques available to help people work through trauma, but not everybody is aware of them.

EastIdahoNews.com spoke with Martinez and Robert Stahn with Well Spring Counseling in Idaho Falls about trauma techniques available to help locals in eastern Idaho.

Brief Imagery Rescripting and Reprocessing Therapy (BIRRT)

Stahn is the owner of Well Spring Counseling, and his areas of professional expertise include trauma. He uses a trauma treatment technique called Brief Imagery Rescripting and Reprocessing Therapy, or BIRRT for short, to help his clients.

For 13 years, Stahn has been using this technique as a way to help decrease symptoms of PTSD in people suffering from things such as high anxiety, avoidance, nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts.

“It is brief, effective (and) there is no hypnosis, no touching or tapping or holding of objects or specific eye movements. It is merely you closing your eyes and telling me what you see and then I work with you in that condition,” Stahn explained. “It is immediate … and the results are enduring.”

He found that on a scale of zero to five (five being the highest), the average severity of people who came to see him for trauma work was 3.8, but after going through the technique, the average severity dropped to 0.8. He said sometimes it is “tremendously beneficial” in only one session.

There are three parts to BIRRT —

Step one: The individual closes their eyes and briefly describes to Stahn the main part of the traumatic event they’ve had.

Step two: They re-start the traumatic event the client has described, but before the negative emotion climbs very high, they stop that image and splice on to it the “perfect ending.”

Step three: Stahn and the client spend time, through imagery, nurturing the client at the age they were when the event happened. This connects the emotional part of their younger self with their current self.

“(BIRRT) is incident-specific (which) may mean bad news because the person may have had a number of traumatic incidents to go through,” Stahn said. “But it may also be good news if all of the incidents are emotionally connected, they may all be addressed by us doing one BIRRT.”

Clients are asked to do homework as part of the treatment such as rehearsing the new ending created in step two and spending time with the “younger version of themselves” that they worked with during step three. They do the homework a couple times a day for a week.

“My experience is that it is the closest thing to magic that I have ever found because with as few as one brief two-hour session, it can help somebody who has been dealing with years of trauma,” Stahn said.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Martinez at Tueller Counseling, works a lot with children. One trauma technique she uses with kids is called Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

As part of this technique, she educates the person who’s been through trauma about how their body reacts to it and what their brain is doing.

“What I like about this technique is the education piece that goes with it,” Martinez said. “When someone gets educated about trauma — (about) what is happening inside of themselves — and that they are having a normal reaction to something … that can be enough to help them start the healing process.”

Once she establishes a good rapport with the client, she has the client go through the trauma with her in specific detail. This helps to desensitize the brain by allowing it to process what happened.

“(When) we process trauma, then our brains can make sense of what happened and find resolution with it,” she said.

Martinez said with this technique, the more the client is able to talk about their trauma, the more it will help them in the long run. If the client has worked through the trauma and processed it, the next time they are faced with something that might trigger their trauma it won’t create as strong of a psychological or physiological reaction.

“It’s actually not what happens to us that’s traumatic, it’s how we think about it and how our body reacts to it that is what makes it trauma,” Martinez added.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a technique that requires several sessions, and according to Martinez, is most effective if the trauma has stopped.

“It’s a very good tool for someone to be able to move forward and have the knowledge and skills to calm themselves, to restore themselves to safety and to make sense of what’s happening to them,” she said.