Carin-Lee Masters Clinical Psychologist
Trauma Counselling

Trauma Counselling

Traumatic experiences can change a person’s perception of themselves, others and feeling safe in the world. According to Herman (1997) trauma causes disempowerment and disconnection from self, feelings and others. Thus therapeutic intervention is highly recommended for a trauma victim. The traumatic event needs to be processed in a safe, non-judgmental and supportive environment.


A brief overview of the 3-Stage Counselling model.

The most common overarching frame for trauma counselling is the three stage model which divides tasks into three distinct phases:

1. Safety and Stabilization

2. Processing of Traumatic Memories

3. Reintegration

Phase One: Safety and Stabilization

This phase is essential before strategies of the other stages are undertaken. This is the stage of establishing safety in a number of life areas. If someone is not safe, they will need to continue engaging in the coping and survival strategies in order to protect themselves.

If someone is living in an environment that does not provide for safety, such as when a parent continues to be affected by addiction, this will be the only phase of work that can be done.

Key elements of this safety phase include building knowledge about trauma and its effects, the impact of these on coping, building an awareness of the benefits and costs of survival responses, development of a larger toolkit of coping responses, and increased self capacity through increased ability to emotionally self regulate and manage their arousal states.

Phase Two: Processing of Traumatic Memories

As noted above, people should have established safety prior to engaging in work processing memories of trauma. This includes safety in their environment as well as emotional safety.

In this phase, traumatic memories are reviewed in the context of a supportive relationship in an exposure therapy approach. By reviewing the memories in this context, people are believed to be more able to accept the memories, instead of trying to avoid them, or avoid thinking about the traumatic events. Some explanations of this stage of work include exposure therapy, the construction of a coherent narrative, or a movement of the memories into narrative memory.

Non-exposure based approaches to phase two work focus on building capacities for self regulation, instead of on processing memories.

Memory processing often sees people returning to previous survival strategies, and so it is important for clients to be aware of this risk before engaging in the endeavour, and it is also important for clients to be supported to return to the full range of coping skills developed in Phase One work.

Phase Three: Reintegration/Reconnection

This may be considered the phase in which clients move from “surviving” to “thriving” as they engage with fine tuning their self regulation skills, and move forward through self exploration and development.

This may also be a stage of learning new patterns of relationships, and learning how to trust others. It is also a point where survivors may move into political action, connecting with others who've experienced similar traumas, and seeking to eliminate it.

“Relationship seems to be an essential form for our collective progress. It takes two individuals, a therapist and a client, to create the process in which psychotherapy flourishes. The unique value of psychotherapy, as opposed to other relationships, is that it provides a stable, safe, secure environment in which to recreate and explore one’s deepest issues. The relationship becomes a training ground in which the client can learn to lovingly tolerate his/her deepest secrets and fears, the shadow, and often disowned, parts of self” and to work toward owning and integrating them (R. Mann, 1998).