Recently I wrote about creating a written narrative account of traumatic events to help process trauma. I chose to follow part of the cognitive processing therapy (CPT) approach laid out by the US Veterans Affairs Center for Deployment Psychology and the Medical University of South Carolina/Navy Medicine. While these resources were focused on veterans, I still thought it would be a good fit.
The first trauma account involves writing out the traumatic events, including as many memories and sensory details as possible. A second trauma account is then written, including any more details that come up as well as the thoughts and feelings that arise while re-writing it. Thinking stuck points are then identified and challenged, and the trauma account is read regularly to provide exposure and regularly challenge the stuck points.
While the CPT protocol used by these sources focused the trauma account on the single most traumatic event, the things that I need to work through were more spread out, so I just went with that. Because I don’t have PTSD and have already done some processing of these memories, I felt like it was something I could tackle on my own.
It took me 7 writing sessions, each last about an hour. Initially, I found I was trying to come up with excuses to avoid the writing sessions that I’d scheduled on my calendar. But I was able to get into a routine of doing writing sessions twice a week, with soothing aromatherapy going, a cup of tea on one side, and a guinea pig or two on the other side.
I would begin each writing session by writing a few sentences about what was forefront in my thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Then I would take up where I’d left off the last session and write until I was exhausted, at which point I’d close with a wrap-up of where I was at in terms of thoughts, feelings, and body.
I found with more recent events that have happened in the past year or so, it was harder to construct a coherent narrative because I just didn’t have clear memories. I’m not sure if that’s because I was extremely depressed at the time these things were happening, or if it’s because I’ve been avoiding those memories as if they were poisonous. Quite possibly some of both.
What arose the most often in my trauma account was getting the message that I am worthless. I’m not sure why I wasn’t expecting that to be what would stand out; I guess because I generally have good self-esteem. But it kept coming up over and over. I guess moving forward, I face the challenge of internalizing the quote “Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.”
Next week I’m going to begin writing the second version of the trauma account. It feels like a less daunting task than dredging all of it up for the first version. It remains to be seen how much this will really help, but it’s certainly worth a try.
PS from 3 years later: I would say that doing the trauma account helped a lot. It helped to create distance both from the memories themselves and the emotions associated with them. It’s certainly something I’m glad that I did.
PTSD Treatment Options: An Overview, a mini-ebook that’s available from the MH@H Download Centre, covers a variety of evidence-based therapies for PTSD.