April 13, 2015 Katie Klein

Trauma Resiliency Model

A Portal to Healing

Katie Klein, Primary TherapistSo often as clinicians we attend trainings which are solely focused on learning ways to help our clients. We leave armed with a plethora of new skills, but what about us, the helpers?

I have just returned from three days of training in The Trauma Resiliency Model (TRM), developed and adapted by Elaine Miller-Karas, LCSW. TRM is a useful set of skills not only for clients, but also for those who help them. TRM teaches skills to help adults and children cope with traumatic stress reactions, and it can be used by anyone as part of a wellness practice.

The goals of TRM are:

  • To deepen the "Resilient Zone" so one is better able to adapt to the stressors of life with flexibility and decreased traumatic stress reactions.
  • To provide self-care.
  • To help reset the nervous system.
  • To reprocess traumatic memories.

For both children and adults, traumatic and stressful experiences can produce a biological process of dysregulation that is self-perpetuating, even in the absence of ongoing external stressors or threats. Although insight about life experiences can be helpful, it doesn't always bring the nervous system back into balance. Consequently, symptoms of nervous system dysregulation cannot be "talked away" but they can be "sensed away".

Learning to stabilize the nervous system by managing sensations is at the heart of the TRM model. The nine skills of the Trauma Resiliency Model, outlined below, can be used singularly or in conjunction with one another. As Miller-Karas says, this is a forgiving model. If one of the skills doesn't work, try another!

  1. Tracking: refers to the practitioner's and client's monitoring and reading sensations
  2. Resourcing and Resource Intensification: using positive or neutral factors to create non-traumatic sensations
  3. Grounding: being fully present in the moment
  4. Gesturing/Spontaneous Movement: bringing awareness to spontaneous gestures/movements that are self-soothing
  5. Help Now!: strategies to get back to the resilient zone
  6. Shift and Stay: shifting to a wellness skill and focusing on sensations of well-being
  7. Titration: graduated exposure to sensations of distress
  8. Pendulation: alternating between traumatic and resource sensations
  9. Completion of Survival Responses: Inviting the client to complete blocked responses

Working with Clients' Trauma

When a client is pressed to remember a traumatic event, instead of resolving the experience, it may actually reinforce the fear and stress that are part of the recollection. Scientists have discovered the very act of remembering changes the structure of the memory. Similarly, when clients recount the narrative of their trauma, it can be re-traumatizing.

"It is an individual's perception of an event as threatening coupled with helplessness that affects the nervous system."

The beauty of TRM is that no narrative is needed; the body holds the story that words may be unable to express. A new narrative can emerge by processing through sensations in the body.

TRM uses an invitational model and language such as, "I invite you..." and "...or not", always giving a client freedom and choices. We try to let the client be in charge of the session, since often power was taken away by the client's trauma. TRM lets the client be the interpreter of his or her own experience.

A Model of Hope

Reflecting back on the TRM training, it became evident that this had not only been a practical, insightful workshop, but also a healing experience. Never before had I attended a professional workshop where there was such a sense of camaraderie, oneness, connection, and shared understanding. Thirty of us, all in the helping field in one way or another: a social worker aiding the homeless in Venice Beach, a clinician doing play therapy with children experiencing the effects of high-conflict divorces, therapists with private practices in the heart of Beverly Hills. One woman in particular stood out, a documentary filmmaker who explores the connection of humans in different cultures. She came to the training to learn skills to help the residents of the impoverished countries she visits.

It was invigorating to share three days with these inspiring people, who were willing to be raw, vulnerable and open to doing their own work. Through our processing and learning of TRM together, we left instilled with the message that, "Adversity is not destiny." The model tells us that there is only good news! We all have the ability to regulate ourselves and to track our own nervous systems. TRM de-pathologizes the human experience and shows us it is more biological and therefore more in our control, helping us recognize our own sensations of distress versus symptoms of well-being.

It's all about going with the nervous system and not against it, as well as working with emotions in a different way.

"We do not have to be trapped by the storms of our bodies."

All quotes and material taken from Elaine Miller-Karas, LCSW and The Trauma Resource Institute's Trauma Resiliency Model Level 1 Manual (TRI, Claremont, CA, 2012).