Psychologist Judy Kuriansky has worked with survivors of natural disasters and in war zones. She also worked as part of the UN mission during the Ebola virus outbreak in Africa. She shares her experiences of working with trauma survivors with us.
After trauma, one is haunted by a sense of insecurity. People and the environment can seem frightening. To overcome this condition Judy uses a technique that helps to determine the place where the person feels safe. It can be any place in the room where he or she can curl up in a chair or crawl under a table. She then asks clients to name the people they feel safe around. For some it’s a parent, for others it’s a spouse or child. In this way, they can outline the boundaries in which they feel safe.
To work with children who cannot yet express their feelings, Judy suggests drawing two pictures. On the first, draw what their anxiety looks like. Next to it, draw a bridge, and on the other side of it, something joyful and calm. Such an image of a happy future is necessary for anyone who has suffered a trauma.
Trauma affects the mind and the body. It remains enclosed in the body, in its movements, in its postures. Therefore, to heal from trauma, it is important to release not only the psychological but also the physical tension. If the body is relaxed, the mind will also come to rest.
One of the exercises Judy suggests is to run around for a few minutes, shouting, jumping around, releasing energy. After that, it’s a good idea to spend some time in silence: meditate, listen to yourself. Movement allows you to release the stress trapped in your body.
After the session, Judy always asks trauma survivors what the work they’ve done means to them? Has it made them stronger? Where can they apply these skills? Analyze any positive outcomes. What has made a difference in your life? What helps you see the glass as half full instead of half empty?
According to the psychological principle of post-traumatic growth, living through trauma can lead to new discoveries, deep inner work, and courageous decisions. A trauma survivor can discover possibilities in himself or herself that he or she did not even know existed, finding new meaning in life.
After trauma, it is very important to create a sense of confidence, resilience and inner strength. To do this, Judy suggests that clients imagine themselves as a reed, a bush or a leaf on a branch. The wind blows – what happens to them? They may wobble, stretch, lean to the ground. They feel vulnerable.
Trauma can lead to a breakdown of trust in those around them and in themselves. But it’s important to remember that people can help each other through difficulties. It is important to find people who can support you in difficult moments.