Trauma Treatment: Safety Comes First

Poppies In my approach to trauma therapy I don’t ask clients to recall traumatic memories unless they have learned how to work with anxiety, emotions, feelings and body sensations resulting from those memories.

Once clients have understood and are able to navigate this daunting material, they gain more courage and confidence in their ability to move through and heal the distress of traumatic memories, rather than feeling controlled by them.

As Babette Rothschild (2014) said:

Therapists can know when by watching for physical signals of autonomic system arousal, transmitted by the client’s body, tone of voice, and physical movements. When a client turns pale, breathes in fast, panting breaths, has dilated pupils, and shivers or feels cold, her sympathetic nervous system (activated in states of stress) is aroused. Stress hormones are pouring into her body, threatening the hippocampus with shut-down.

These symptoms mean it’s time to calm the client down. When, on the other hand, a client sighs, breathes more slowly, sobs deeply, sweats, or flushes, her parasympathetic nervous system (activated in states of rest and relaxation) has been activated, and her stress hormone levels are reducing. Recognizing these bodily signals is invaluable to the therapist. Likewise, a client who learns to recognize them often gains a greater sense of body awareness and self-control.

Helping trauma survivors feel safe is particularly helpful in therapy. This process allows for healing to occur in a gentle manner while clients regain trust and confidence in their ability to move on.


Rothschild, B. (2014). Applying the Brakes In Trauma Treatment, Safety is Essential. Psychotherapy Netwoker. Retrieved from

© Maria Stella, PhD. All Rights Reserved.

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