A Therapist Explains a Helpful Writing Exercise For Trauma
If You're Having Trouble Processing Trauma, Try This Journaling Technique From a Therapist
Trauma differs for everyone — it's caused by varying events or experiences one has gone through — and there are instances where it may progress into post-traumatic stress disorder. Licensed mental health counselor Jor-El Caraballo, cofounder of Viva Wellness, said he thinks "it can be really difficult for people to understand the ways in which trauma has impacted them." That's why he explained that when he starts working with clients on processing their traumatic experiences, it takes time and a complex approach to delve into not only specific events but also responses to those events.
"For more everyday issues, there tends to be a very direct path," Caraballo told POPSUGAR. "But for trauma, a lot of the work is trying to figure out where those connections are for that individual person, and that can make it complicated." In other words, not everything is black and white — how you react to trauma may not always be so overt.
A tool Caraballo called out for beginning to analyze trauma is writing your experience or experiences in the third person as if you were talking about someone else as opposed to yourself. You should write out a literal short story, not make bullet points down a page. This, he said, can help you distance yourself from your trauma enough so you can view its impact more clearly.
Trauma itself generates a feeling of danger or instability, and Caraballo said writing in third person provides emotional and psychological safety. "It's not, 'I've experienced this.' It is, 'This character experiences,'" he explained. "Even that can help create a little bit more safety to explore the feelings and thoughts that come up to that person."
Caraballo said he typically does this with clients as a one-time exercise, but people can try it on their own as well before deciding if they want to seek expert help. "I definitely think it's a good idea to speak with a professional about what comes up in these kinds of reflections as it can be overwhelming to work through difficult emotions," he noted. He would advise people to consider how the exercise was for them — Was it hard to write? What emotions came up? — then gauge the need for therapy because "those reactions can identify some ongoing points to work through in more professionally supported work."
If the writing exercise gets to be too triggering, Caraballo wants you to stop in your tracks. "You don't need to complete it for the sake of completing it," he said. "It can actually be more harmful if you disregard feeling overwhelmed or if you 'numb out' in the middle of it." Also, this exercise isn't something he suggests doing multiple times. Use it to get a new and slightly removed vantage point and to figure out what the next steps are in your mental health journey.