8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery by Babette Rothschild (Book List for Recovery & Healing)
Babette Rothschild is a person with extensive professional expertise in the area of understanding and treating trauma. In her book 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery Babette also discloses that she has lived through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) herself and that it was in her own pursuit of recovery that she realised that appropriate and respectful treatment options were lacking. She has the great belief too that living through trauma and hard times is tough enough and that recovery need not be reminiscent of the original turmoil or leave you in a worse place.
Rothschild advocates for trauma recovery to be about prioritising an increase in the quality of a person’s life in the safest way possible and presents 8 Keys, one per chapter, so that people can take recovery into their own hands and have enough information and guidance to make informed decisions about their care, whether they are doing it alone through self-help or with the support of other people, professional or not. Rothschild also makes the often unacknowledged point in her book that many people who experience trauma recover without therapy or other kinds of professional intervention and have done so since the beginning of time.
Below I share Rothschild’s 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery as well as a few core concepts and hope you can find something to take from it for your own journey. (My own keys for living well with PTSD can be read by clicking here).
Key 1: Plot Your Course with Mindfulness
By becoming aware of what is happening for you in your thoughts, feelings, sensations and impulses in any moment you can develop a mindful gauge that will assist you in making decisions about your recovery and about what it is helpful for you in particular circumstances. Through this you not only become aware of what is helpful and what is not but you listen to these messages and act in accordance to them.
Key 2: Begin with Your Epilogue … You Made It!
How often do you recount the story of your trauma, to yourself or to others? Do you feel better when you describe the details or does the telling leave you feeling disconnected or more shaken? … Typically, when relating a trauma, you start at the beginning of the account. … Too often, you can get stuck at the beginning or in the middle, and rarely, if ever, get to the end – the actual end. … The true conclusion to any trauma is the arrival at now, today. Getting to now is the testament that you made it, you are here. Whatever it was, you survived it. For that reason, this is the place I find it best to start trauma recovery – with the epilogue, the fact that you made it.
Being stuck in the trauma is not only evidenced in the way that you relay details of it to others but it can also be a result of your nervous system being stuck in the traumatic event and behaving as if it is there still. The brain, specifically the amygdala and the hippocampus, are involved in these processes but can be calmed through new learning.
Key 3: Remembering is Not Required
Despite what is popularised in media and misconception it is not necessary to revisit past traumas. It is a very individual matter and over time a better way of working through trauma has been by paying attention to the phase-oriented approach. This conceptualisation states that: Phase I is concerned with establishing safety and stabilisation – whether that takes hours, weeks, or even years; Phase II involves processing trauma memories; Phase III focuses on integration, applying what was gained from phases I and II into the mainstream of daily life; and that the processing trauma memories phase may mean that the decision is made to leave memories alone, for now or for ever.
A crucial question at this point is to consider what your actual goal of trauma recovery is and to proceed from there, Is it to process and reprocess your past, or is it to better your future?
What I Love About this Book
-> it is easy to read
-> there is something for everyone – people reading for themselves as well as people reading it who support others, personally or professionally
-> it is practical with reflective questions and exercises to try
-> it explains theory in a way you won’t get lost and give up
-> you can return again and again and get a different benefit from it as you go deeper with your healing
-> it was written by someone who gets it and stories of other people who have lived and survived are shared too
Questions have burned in me during and since my own recovery from PTSD and throughout my professional studies: Why did the route to my healing have to be so brutal at times? Having suffered during the trauma, was it really necessary to suffer again while attempting to heal from it? Why did it seem that dealing with the effects of trauma involved nearly the same level of terror and distress as the original events? My own common sense screamed that there must be additional options for trauma recovery, ways to make it feel safer and less traumatic.
Trauma recovery must, first and foremost, improve your quality of life. Anything which furthers that goal is good for you; anything which compromises that goal is not. That may sound very simplistic, but in a way that principle is just that simple.
Key 4: Stop Flashbacks
In reality, a flashback is not a repetition or replay of a past event; it is a memory of that event. This is a critically important distinction and worth repeating: A flashback is a memory. That is the case no matter how intense it is or whether it can fool your mind into believing the trauma is really happening again or still going on.
Lone Reimert said ‘Recovering from trauma has to do with getting better at being afraid’. She meant that a major part of healing from trauma involves regaining the ability to access fear as the protective friend it is meant to be.
Key 5: Reconcile Forgiveness and Shame
Part A. Forgive Your Limitations
Control is an issue for people who have experienced trauma as what has happened is something that was outside of your control. This can be hard to forgive yourself for but how would you view the situation if someone else was in it?
Part B. Share Your Shame
Shame can be extremely isolating but is known to dissipate when it is understood or acknowledged by a supportive other.
Key 6: Take Smaller Steps for Bigger Leaps
Your own pace, the one that will actually get you to your goal – even if it seems slow – is the one to choose, and steps that guarantee success should be the ones taken. What step could you take today toward your objective?
Key 7: Get Moving
Exercise and fitness has several known benefits in relation to trauma recovery: as an antidote to a persistent freeze response; to increase containment and self-control via increased muscle tone; and to dissipate buildup of stress hormones and help regulate ongoing stress levels.
Rothschild also notes the paradox that exists the assumption that relaxation methods will helpful to people who have experienced trauma. It has been found that this is actually not the case and that a good portion of traumatised people actually experience more panic and anxiety symptoms whilst trying to elicit a relaxed state. This is one area that it is essential to be mindful of your self and going with what works, or does not work, for you.
Key 8: Make Lemonade
‘When life gives you lemons make lemonade’ … To make lemonade means to rise above the lousy hand you were dealt, making the best of it and helping others despite or in spite of it.
As a final note I share another insight from this book, that recovery takes the time it takes. Attempting to hurry it often actually slows it down. How will you sustain yourself through this period without wearing yourself out or putting unnecessary demands on yourself?
… with heart,
Reference: Rothschild, B. (2010). 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery: Take Charge Strategies to Empower Your Healing. W.W.
Norton: New York.