The importance of acknowledgment
“To heal, we must remember; it’s hard, sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.” President Biden shared these words during the memorial last week to honor those who died from COVID-19. Watching this ceremony, I noticed with renewed awareness of how important this acknowledgment was, and how invalidating the lack of recognition this past year has been.
“To heal, we must remember.” Often, people come to therapy placing this statement as a question: “Do I need to remember to heal?” Though there are many ways to acknowledge trauma memories, it is also unfortunately true that for many experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they did not have a safe and supported opportunity to acknowledge, remember, and heal in the days, weeks, or sometimes years after the trauma occurred.
Symptoms of PTSD are normal reactions to a traumatic event or series of events. In fact, mental health providers do not diagnose PTSD as a condition unless at least three months have passed since the traumatic event (and this timeline can get trickier when someone is continuing to experience trauma, such as ongoing abuse). PTSD refers to a condition where these normal reactions get “stuck” in the healing process, often due to lack of psychological and/or physical safety and lack of support, or access to safe support. At times, this is due to the failure of institutions (e.g., one’s military unit, church, organization) that not only interferes with opportunities for one to heal, but also adds a significant layer of betrayal.
Therapy for PTSD (sometimes referred to as “trauma focused therapy”) does not mean we try to erase the memories -- if only one could. Instead, we look to find ways to get “unstuck” from the control the symptoms of PTSD can come to have on one’s life. Often this involves strategies such as learning about one’s own trauma reactions and how these symptoms arise in daily life, increasing awareness of the impact of systemic betrayal and the context surrounding the trauma, addressing unhelpful thoughts or beliefs that developed after the traumatic event(s), fostering connection with healthy community, and forging a path to reengage in meaningful activities that have been impacted by the trauma.
In short, trauma-focused therapy aims to accept the reality of the trauma AND provide opportunities to experience how taking steps forward is possible. Though trauma-focused therapy can be challenging, most people who engage in it find benefit, including an increase in feelings of connection to themselves and others.
“It’s hard to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.” It is indeed important to see our collective grief acknowledged by the leaders of our nation, and to allow that acknowledgment to provide a path forward. Trauma-focused therapy aims to do just that, and through that remembering, allow for experiences of meaning and joy.
If you find yourself struggling with the impact of individual and/or collective trauma, from recent events or those decades past, know you are not alone, and that ultimately the struggle you are experiencing is a normal reaction to abnormal situations. We at TREC DC are available for a no cost consultation to determine if trauma-focused therapy might be right for you, and to help connect you with a provider to support your own path forward.