Will Trauma Ever Go Away? A Perspective on Healing Trauma
Updated: Aug 2, 2022
Trauma comes in many different forms, and can affect us in many different ways. For some, trauma exists as a series of uncomfortable reminders of events they would soon rather forget. For others, trauma consists of constant, inescapable invasions of their daily experience that seem impossible to stop. Regardless of the severity of trauma, it’s completely natural for us to wish for it to go away, in the same way that we might wish for a crippling migraine or bad back ache to go away. Many people seek trauma therapy hoping it will make their trauma go away.
Recovery, Cures, and Healing
Unfortunately, we’ve yet to come up with a complete cure for trauma. It’s important to think about the words being used here. The word ‘cure’ suggests that we have an illness, and that some intervention can rid us of that illness. An example might be diabetes. We have ways of helping people with diabetes manage their illness. But this is not the same as a cure; some form of medicine or surgery which would completely rid them of diabetes and help them return to “normal”.
Meanwhile, the word ‘heal’ might remind us of a bad bruise, scrape or cut. An injury that we’ve endured, which now needs to heal. Once things do heal, they typically leave a scar. As such, we can suggest that we still have a reminder of the injury in the form of a scar, even though the injury itself can be said to have ‘healed’.
Perhaps a word more suitable for the current approach to trauma is the word ‘recover’. When we are very unwell, such as having a bad stomach bug, we expect that we will be able to ‘recover’ from this state and experience a return to normal. And yet still, this definition does not quite encapsulate what it means to undergo trauma therapy.
Of course, these are not clear cut definitions, and there is a lot of crossover. It also raises some questions; is trauma akin to an illness, a physical injury, or a bad bug? And could that description differ from person to person?
If you've considered getting trauma therapy in the hopes that it will help with your trauma, you might have used some of these words to describe your goals. Wanting to recover from trauma. Wanting to ‘heal’ your trauma, or find some kind of ‘cure’. Which brings us to the important question: will trauma ever go away?
Does A Cure For Trauma Exist?
I think it’s worth stating clearly that, if therapists had a cure for trauma, they would provide it. If we knew of some medicine, technique or ritual that would instantly cure your trauma and make it seem as though it never happened, they would at the very least offer it to people, given how much suffering and difficulty trauma causes.
I can confidently say that no such cure exists. There are, of course, consistent efforts to improve the results of interventions used in trauma therapy, while making them quicker and more cost effective. These efforts are often well intended. But they can lead to people being misled, empowering some practitioners to make unrealistic promises about their work. For example, they might state that in “10 sessions or less they can rid you of your trauma using X or Y technique!”
While there might not be a cure for trauma, it does not mean that there aren't effective ways to help people heal from, or recover from their trauma. It’s important to set realistic expectations of what that looks like though. When a cut or abrasion heals, often a scar is left. When we are ill with the flu or a stomach bug, our body retains a memory of this ailment to fight off future infections. So even though we might feel as though we've made a "full recovery", there is still a residue left over. The question becomes, would it be ideal if we could remove any and all traces of the trauma altogether? For the trauma to go away?
A Thought Experiment
Let’s say I am working with a veteran who has PTSD from combat experience. And I have a machine from the future which I can place him into, and after 50 minutes he will be completely healed and will no longer have any signs or symptoms of trauma or PTSD. No more flashbacks, no more nightmares, no more cold sweats, anxiety or depression.
However, there is a catch. In order for the trauma to be completely removed, it would require removing some of those memories as well, or dramatically changing his relationship to them, to the point that these memories no longer evoked a powerful response from him.
What, then, would he remember when he thought back to his time at war? There are horrific things that occur during wars that many would be eager to forget. But would they wish to forget the friends they made along the way? The bonds and brotherhood that formed? And what of the life lessons they learned?
The difficulty with trauma “going away” is that it means labeling the entire experience that one has had, both during and after the traumatic event/s, as negative. This, however, is seldom the case.
Instead, trauma is incredibly complex and can occur in a context that may not so easily be labeled as bad. War is horrible, but there are bonds that can be forged in those horrific circumstances which stand the test of time. One can endure a truly traumatic relationship, but there will surely be positive memories buried in there somewhere, even if they are few and far between.
In fact, it’s quite common for people to report that the most impactful and meaningful events in their lives were the hardest ones. Those experiences helped them to realize the importance of their life and drove them to take it more seriously by finding a way to give back to the world, or investing more in the people they care about. Or these experiences woke them up from a slumber and motivated them to make meaningful changes in their lives, such as getting rid of bad habits and cutting ties with people who are negative influences.
This is not an attempt to lighten or rationalise the terrible things that have and do happen to people in this world. Instead, I suggest that things are seldom purely good, or purely evil.
Finding Hope in Trauma Therapy
Trauma therapy is an effective way to address the symptoms of your trauma and helps you to lead a more fulfilling life. While there are many approaches out there, when helping clients I typically use the three phase model which involves safety and resourcing, processing trauma, and integrating it.
The final stage of trauma therapy involves integrating the trauma into one's newfound sense of self. To put this simply, it means changing your perspective as being someone who is traumatized, to someone who has survived it. To take the lessons from this experience and incorporate them into an evolved version of yourself that can move beyond what has happened. Some people like to identify themselves as a “survivor” once they have undertaken this process.
This does not mean they have been healed or cured of their trauma. It does mean that they’ve learned to live with it, which includes managing their symptoms, and have moved beyond their trauma.
I’m aware that this might not have been the conclusion you were hoping for having read this article. It’s not a pleasant truth to swallow, especially if your trauma is debilitating and making day to day life a struggle. However, I do believe it’s important to be honest about these matters, rather than sugar coating them and making you believe that you can truly rid yourself of trauma.
Trauma therapy often takes months, if not years, depending on the severity of your trauma and other circumstances. Some people may not be ready to recover from their trauma, or may not be able to at all. While I would never promise a full recovery, I can say that in the first 2-3 months you can experience a dramatic shift in your day to day life by simply focusing on better self care. This is possible without even having to talk about your trauma in therapy, which I know many people worry about.
If you’re interested in learning more about how trauma therapy can help you, please get in touch and arrange a free 15 minute consultation with me. There’s no pressure for you to go into detail about what has happened to you if you’re not ready for that yet. We can talk about how therapy works, and this will give you a chance to see if I’m a good fit for you. Click HERE to arrange your consultation today.