The Many Phases of Trauma Recovery

There’s no doubt that the human mind is resilient, but this doesn’t mean it’s invulnerable. Distressing and traumatic events can have significant psychological effects, and frequently, a person must go through the phases of trauma recovery in order to regain normalcy. While everyone deals with traumatic situations differently, the recovery stages are similar for everyone.

Like all approaches and theories on mental health, though, some mental health professionals view these phases differently when providing trauma-informed care or treating post-traumatic stress disorder. Rather than focus on only one framework, this guide will provide an in-depth look at all phases of trauma recovery. The underlying theory matters far less, however, than helping people get their lives back.

Contact Transformations Treatment Center today to learn how we can help in this process.

Herman’s Phases of Trauma Recovery

a person with acute stress disorder going the different stages of trauma recoveryThe trauma recovery process and phases first put forth by Dr. Judith Herman are the most recognizable in the mental health field. This framework discusses three distinct phases that center on the root problem of traumatic memories: feelings of helplessness. Following a traumatizing experience or traumatic events, a person may feel as if they have no control over their lives. This can create significant hindrances in everything they do.

The following recovery stages help professionals better treat their clients. Even more importantly, though, is that they assure trauma victims there’s a path forward:

1. Establishment of Safety

When considering the phases of trauma recovery, the establishment of safety is the most important. In fact, it’s important to use no other therapeutic approaches until this stage is complete. Clients must feel some semblance of safety and control before treatment can move forward and mental health recovery can begin. Those suffering from acute trauma disorder could complete this stage in a few days.

Unfortunately, this process could take years for victims of chronic trauma or post-trauma stress disorder. Regardless of the severity or underlying cause of trauma, though, treatment must focus on helping a person feel control over their body. This is especially the case for survivors of sexual assault experiencing trauma symptoms. Once this is accomplished, control over the environment is the next step. When someone finally feels safe and secure in their lives, the second phase of trauma recovery can begin.

2. Remembrance and Mourning

Once a client achieves a sense of safety, they can start telling the story of their trauma. Some feel that doing this only makes a person relive the traumatizing event, but it’s an essential aspect of transforming the trauma memories in their head. By gaining a sense of empowerment through encountering the past, the precipitating event can become a single part of life’s story rather than a defining moment.

When looking at the phases of trauma recovery, it’s important to navigate this stage thoughtfully and carefully. While it’s necessary to face distressing memories head-on, this remembrance must not turn into intrusion. Patients and therapists must learn to walk this fine line in order to achieve success and continue the healing process.

3. Reconnection with Ordinary Life

Once a person has established safety and faced trauma head-on, they can start rebuilding a normal life. New relationships, goals, aspirations and even a new self are part of this stage of trauma healing. This doesn’t mean you need to give up on old goals or relationships, and it doesn’t mean you have to change who you are. It simply means you must view these things through a present-day lens and integrate traumatic memories into everyday life.

After these three phases of trauma recovery are complete, the capacity for trust typically returns. It becomes possible to recognize when someone deserves trust and when they do not. This can be a long process, but it’s a necessary one to take to reach normalcy. A single traumatizing event — or even chronic trauma — does not have to define you.

Hunter’s Stages of Trauma Recovery

Mental health professionals employ a trauma-informed approach to help patients processing traumatic memories

Though Mic Hunter’s book Abused Boys focused on men who dealt with the effects of childhood sexual abuse, the phases of trauma discussed apply to any gender. These stages have distinct parallels with the stages of grief that people experience. Since you “lose” an important part of yourself in each of these situations, the parallels are easy to understand.

There are five stages in Hunter’s framework, and like Herman’s phases of recovery, these end with an increased feeling of control. Once a person no longer feels helpless, facing and overcoming mental health issues becomes an easier process.

  1. Denial: A person may ignore their trauma, and in serious cases, they may repress it until there’s no memory at all.
  2. Bargaining: A person will acknowledge that something happened to them, but they’ll also tell themselves they experienced no negative outcomes due to it. “It happened, but I’m fine.
  3. Anger: Once a person accepts that a traumatic event may have harmed them, a common emotional response is anger. This anger can create a fear of losing control.
  4. Sadness: The realization that trauma took something away from you is difficult to deal with. This starts a type of grieving process.
  5. Acceptance: Once a person acknowledges trauma and gets to a place where they don’t blame themselves, they can overcome feelings of hopelessness. Patients accept the past and come to peace with it.

Hunter’s phases of trauma recovery can help professionals create better treatment plans for those dealing with traumatic disorders. These stages are especially important for those who experienced chronic trauma due to ongoing abuse. Healing may take time, but it’s well within a person’s reach.

Expressive Trauma Integration

A person with complex trauma going through trauma treatment to overcome painful memories of a traumatic incident

One framework of trauma recovery accounts for every stage — including the time before a traumatic event — that will influence a person’s recovery. Dr. Odelya Gertel Kraybill came up with the Expressive Trauma Integration “roadmap” to help professionals and those suffering from traumatic experiences better understand what’s necessary for the treatment of trauma-related symptoms.

One of the most important aspects of these phases of trauma recovery is the recognition that the precipitating event is causing issues. People too often blame themselves for the outcomes of traumatizing events. The following stages are all steps in overcoming this belief:

  1. Routine: This is a person’s normal functioning before trauma.
  2. Event: The traumatizing event occurs and causes a shift in perception.
  3. Withdrawal: This is a natural trauma response. People may experience fear, shame, anger, guilt and other responses.
  4. Awareness: Moving past withdrawal and onto awareness occurs when a person gains knowledge of themselves and how trauma is affecting them.
  5. Action: Possibly the most important of the phases of trauma recovery, survivors can make the conscious decision to let healing begin.
  6. Integration: People can integrate trauma into their life story without having it control that story.

The outcome of these phases of trauma recovery is that trauma gets acknowledged as part of reality. By the end, however, it no longer occupies the center of that reality. It’s possible for a person to go through these cycles multiple times — especially the withdrawal phase — but the realization that resources exist to overcome traumatizing events is central.

Start the Phases of Trauma Recovery Today

The experience of traumatizing events is not uncommon, but our reactions to these events are unique. No two people will experience distressing situations in the same way, and this means their journey through the phases of trauma recovery can vary significantly. Whether a person navigates this path with counseling or medication, the important thing is they navigate it and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

At Transformations Treatment Center, we understand the different theories on recovering from trauma. The unifying theme between all of them, though, is that a roadmap to healing exists. Our staff of certified professionals treats each client as an individual, and this is why our wide array of treatment options is so important. No matter your specific situation, there’s a way to get back on track.

Contact us today to learn how our therapeutic approaches can better equip you for the phases of trauma recovery.


Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences

Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse