The Three-Stage Model of Trauma Recovery

By Bethany Nickerson, LMSW

I work with many clients who have experienced trauma. Beginning the healing process can feel uncomfortable and overwhelming for clients because it is not a linear process. Not being able to know exactly how things will unfold can be distressing for both therapists and clients. It can be helpful to have a bit of a “road map” even if that road isn’t perfectly straight or flat. I love the three stage model Judith Herman outlined in her book Trauma and Recovery because it allows for a lot of customization and takes a very holistic approach.

  1. Stabilization: This phase is all about setting goals, establishing a treatment plan, and developing skills. The therapist will help the client to establish safety in their body and tap into their inner strengths. The client and therapist will assess for disassociation and work on recognizing the difference between being disassociated and being fully present. There are many different ways to help clients address their disassociation. The therapist provides psychoeducation about trauma and how it impacts the body and mind. This is typically very validating for the client because trauma responses can feel isolating and confusing.

  2. Reprocessing: During this phase treatment will focus on memories that are typically intensely distressing and disruptive to clients' lives. This can be done through: desensitization, grief work around unwanted or abusive experiences and how they impact functioning, mourning or working through grief about good experiences that one did not have, but that all children deserve, and/or re-parenting (which is encouraging the developed brain to care-take the developing brain). EMDR is a great tool to use during this phase.

  3. Reconnection: The final phase is centered on reconnecting with people, meaningful activities, and other aspects of life. Sometimes this will include peer led communities/groups, exploring identity components, learning to explore outside the client's comfort zone, and finding hobbies.

Herman, J. L. (1997). Trauma and Recovery. New York: BasicBooks.

Bethany Nickerson is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.