Tag Archives: Traumatic Memories

Responding and Adjusting to the Effects of Trauma : Five Stages


One of the world’s leading experts on the effects of traumatic experience is the psychologist Mardi Horowitz, and it is he who proposed the five stage model of how we respond and adjust to traumatic experience. The five stages that Horowitz describes are as follows :


A) Outcry

B) Numbness and denial

C) Intrusive re-experiencing of the traumatic experience

D) Working through the traumatic experience

E) Completion


Let’s look at each of these five stages in turn :

A) Outcry : this first stage occurs in the immediate aftermath of the traumatic experience – it involves a disorganized and confused mental state in which the individual is likely to feel overwhelmed and disorientated.

B) Numbness and denial : this second stage is essentially self-protective – the brain attempts to banish thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic experience from conscious awareness leading to a state of numbness and denial. This can include psychological states known as ‘depersonalization’ (this is a sense of being cut off from, or somehow separate from, one’s real self) and ‘derealization’ (this is the sensation of being cut off from reality ; it generates the feeling the trauma was not real – as if it had just happened in a film or play : the individual finds it hard to accept the traumatic event/s did actually occur).

C) Intrusive re-experiencing : however, the above protective stage can only endure for so long until the memories start to powerfully re-assert themselves. It should also be noted that, paradoxically, the more an individual actively attempts to suppress the painful memories, the more forceful they will tend to become – this is a process called ‘rebound’ (click here for one of my articles related to this phenomenon).

Because this stage involves re-experiencing the traumatic event/s, it can be very distressing ; to reduce the power of the memories and the psychological pain that they bring, it is necessary to start to process them.

People often vascillate between stages 2 (B) and 3 (C) and it is often only possible to start assimilating what has happened into long-term memory in a slow and gradual manner, bit by bit. This assimilation process is stage 4 (D) – Horowitz referred to it as ‘working through’.

D) Working through : during this stage, which involves coming to terms with what occurred, making sense of it, understanding its meaning and implications and integrating the traumatic experiences into long-term memory, both denial and intrusive memories, together with the pain associated with the trauma, start to diminish

E) Finally, completion occurs – the previously intrusive memories become fully integrated into long-term memory and begin to lose their power to cause emotional distress.


However, sometimes the recovering individual may become stuck at a particular stage, not infrequently at stage 3 (C) – the ‘intrusive memories’ stage ; this may involve disturbing thoughts, images, flashbacks and nightmares. In such a case, appropriate therapy may be essential.

Above eBook now available for immediate download from Amazon. CLICK HERE for details.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

EMDR Helps Us Mentally Process Trauma.

EMDR for trauma

When we suffer severe trauma we are not able to fully mentally process what it is that has happened to us and the trauma becomes mentally entrenched – in other words, what happened to us becomes locked or ‘stuck’ in our memory network. The effect of this may include us experiencing various symptoms such as irrational beliefs, painful emotions, anxiety and fears, flashbacks, nightmares and phobias. It may well also cause blocked energy and greatly reduce our self-efficacy.

When we experience events that trigger memories of the trauma, images, sounds, physical sensations and beliefs which echo the original experience of the trauma cause our perception of current events to be distorted.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can unblock this traumatic information and thus allow us to healthily mentally integrate it with our other life experiences and our life story as a whole.

Trauma can occur in the form of SHOCK TRAUMA and DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA. Shock trauma consists of a sudden threat which is overwhelming and/or life threatening – it occurs as a single episode such as a violent attack, rape or a natural disaster. Developmental trauma, on the other hand, refers to a series of events which occur over a period of time. These events GRADUALLY ALTER THE PERSON’S NEUROLOGICAL SYSTEM to the point that it REMAINS IN THE TRAUMATIC STATE. This, in turn, can cause interruption in the child’s long-term psychological growth. Experiences which can lead to developmental trauma include : abandonment by parent, long term separation from parent, an unsafe environment, an unstable environment, neglect, serious illness, physical and/or sexual abuse or betrayal by a care giver.

The effects of developmental trauma include damaging the child’s sense of self. self-esteem, self-definition and self-confidence. Also, the child’s sense of safety and security in the world will be seriously undermined. This makes it far more likely that the individual will experience further trauma in life as an adult as his/her sense of fear and helplessness remain unresolved.

EMDR works by allowing the locked or ‘stuck’ traumatic information to be properly, mentally processed. This leads to the disturbing information becoming psychologically resolved and integrated.


EMDR is based on the idea that it is our memories which form the basis of our PERCEPTIONS, ATTITUDES and BEHAVIOURS. Because, as we have already established, traumatic memories fail to be properly processed they lead to these perceptions, attitudes and behaviours becoming DISTORTED and DYSFUNCTIONAL. In effect, the trauma is too large and too complex to be properly processed so it remains ‘STUCK’ and DYSFUNCTIONALLY STORED. This often leads to MALADAPTIVE ATTEMPTS TO PROCESS AND RESOLVE THE INFORMATION CONNECTED TO THE TRAUMA SUCH AS FLASHBACKS AND NIGHTMARES (Sharpio, 2001).

When this problem occurs it is EMDR which is being increasingly turned to allow effective processing and mental healing to occur. I will look in more detail at what EMDR involves in later posts.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma: Can ‘Buried Traumatic Memories’ be Uncovered by Hypnosis?


A central tenet of psychodynamic theory is that some traumatic memories are so painful that they are buried (repressed) in the unconscious (automatically rather than deliberately) denying us direct access to them (though it has been theorized indirect access may be available through dreams and other phenomena).

One theory is that these buried memories need to be brought into full consciousness via the psychotherapeutic process and properly ‘worked through’ in order to alleviate the psychological symptoms associated with their hitherto repression.

It is frequently believed, including by therapists, that ‘buried traumatic memories’ can be accessed by hypnosis. But can they? What does the research tell us?

In one study, 70% of first year psychology students agreed with the statement that hypnosis can help to access repressed memories. More worryingly, 84% of psychologists were also found to believe the same thing. It comes as little surprise, then, that many therapists use hypnosis in an attempt to help their clients recover ‘repressed traumatic memories’. Indeed, the therapy, known as ‘hypnoanalysis’, was developed on the theory that ‘repressed traumatic memories’ could be accessed by hypnosis to cure the patient of his/her psychological ailment.

Surveys of the general public indicate that many of them, too, believe in the power of hypnosis to aid memory recall.

Whilst some contemporary researchers still hold to the belief that hypnosis aids recall, the majority now believe this is NOT the case. On the contrary, hypnosis has generally been found to IMPAIR and DISTORT recall (eg. Lynnet, 2001).

Furthermore, studies reveal that hypnosis can CREATE FALSE MEMORIES (see my post on memory repression for more detail on the question of the reality of concept of buried memories) which, due to the insiduous influence of the therapist, the patient can become very confident are real.

This is of particular concern if the hypnosis has been used to try to help an eye-witness or crime victim recall ‘forgotten details’ of the crime and this evidence is then presented before a court of law. Indeed, as the problem becomes increasingly recognized, such ‘hypnotically recovered evidence’ is becoming increasingly unlikely to be admissable.

Some therapists use hypnosis to age-regress their adult clients (ie. take them back ‘mentally’ to their childhoods) in an attempt to help them recall important events that occurred in their childhood which may be connected to their current psychological state. However, here, too, research suggests (eg. Nash, 1987) such attempts are of no real value.


Hypnosis does not appear to be useful for retrieving ‘buried memories’ and can, in fact, be utterly counter-productive by creating FALSE or DISTORTED memories.

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Above eBook now available for immediate download on Amazon.  CLICK HERE. (other titles available).

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).