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Herman’s Three Stages Of Recovery :

The psychologist and expert on trauma, Judith Herman, has identified three key stages that it is necessary for those who suffered childhood trauma and subsequently developed complex posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to pass through on our mutual, yet unique, journies to recovery. I have summarized these three stages below :


This stage involves focusing on the symptoms that many suffer as a result of childhood trauma, including :

– difficulty controlling/regulating emotions

– aggression/anger/hostility (click here to read my article about how to control anger)

– alcohol/drug addiction (click here to read my article on this)

– behavioral addictions (internet porn, anonymous sex, gambling, etc) click here to read my article on this

– re-enacting abusive patterns of behavior

– problematic eating behaviors (click here to read my article on this)

– dissociation (click here to read my article about this phenomenon)

– self-harm (click here to read my article on this)

– emotional numbing

– feelings of being unsafe/ in danger

– self-neglect/lack of self-care

– depression (click here to read my article on this)

– panic attacks

– feelings of powerlessness

– feelings of shame/guilt

– deep distrust of others

It is necessary to identify the symptoms one may have and then to set treatment goals and to learn about ways one will be able to reach those goals.

It is also highly necessary, in this first stage, for the individual to establish a sense of safety and security.

In this first stage, too, inner strengths which may well have been neglected in the past are developed.

It should also be noted that stage one does NOT focus upon discussing and attempting to process painful memories. However, this rule is not set in stone and such memories may be addressed if doing so facilitates creating a sense of safety and/or greater stability and/or good self-care.

Finally, stage one may also include going on medications, if appropriate (for example, anti-depressants), psychotherapy (usually the most appropriate form of therapy is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – CLICK HERE TO READ MY ARTICLE ABOUT DBT).  This type of therapy is particularly useful if the person is suffering from extreme difficulties controlling/regulating emotions or is experiencing acute difficulties with interpersonal relationships.

Once a sense of safety, stability, good self-care, and the ability to adequately regulate emotions has been achieved, stage two may be moved on to.



Judith Herman called this stage of recovery remembrance and mourning.

During this stage, painful memories are reviewed and discussed with the aim of reducing their emotional intensity and revising their perceived implications for the person’s future life and sense of self-identity. There are many techniques that may be used to process and make less painful memories of trauma. At the time of writing, perhaps, the most popular one is known as eye movement desensitization and restructuring – CLICK HERE TO READ MY ARTICLE ABOUT THIS.

Also, during this stage, the therapist encourages the person to grieve for the losses s/he has suffered due to a traumatic childhood (for example, many who have suffered severe childhood trauma feel, in a very real sense, that their childhood was stolen from them.

This stage is also a time to start coming to terms with the active harm the trauma has done (eg perhaps the pain of the emotional trauma has led to alcoholism, drug addiction, self-harm etc).


Once stage two has been successfully completed, the person can start trying to get on with a ‘normal life, involving re-forming relationships with other/reconnecting with people, and resuming meaningful activities.


This is not the only model of recovery from trauma in existence but is certainly one of the better-known ones. I will look at other models of recovery in later articles.

Recovery is thought to be very difficult if a person stays socially isolated and does not re-connect with others. CLICK HERE TO READ MY ARTICLE ON OVERCOMING RELATIONSHIP DIFFICULTIES.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE.

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