John H.

Trauma Processing for Movements

Trauma Coping Skills


      Before a Potentially Traumatic Event

      During a Potentially Traumatic Event

      After a Traumatic Event

      Post Trauma Coping Skills



      Suggested Reading

What is “trauma”? Trauma is any experience that exceeds our individual or collective ability to cope with it.

We can emerge stronger and wiser after being overwhelmed. Healthy movements are built over time, dealing with trauma is a continuous process.

We work together to deal with trauma so we can build collective power and community.

Before a Potentially Traumatic Event

During a Potentially Traumatic Event

If someone gets an acute attack of anxiety, try:

After a Traumatic Event

Watch for subtle signs of aftershock or post-traumatic stress. Any combo of these may appear:

People may need further therapy if:

People may need support in the days/weeks after a major trauma:

Herbs, supplements, or tea that can promote calming (al- ways consult your medical professional before using herbs or supplements if you’re on any medications or have any health concerns). Helpful ones can include:

Resources for body work

Grounding Skills

Grounding skills are important to have on hand for any group members who are experiencing overwhelming emotions or experiencing trauma reactions, but also are important tools to have on hand for yourself. This work is hard, and we’re likely going to experience our own emotional responses. Many people have techniques that work for them, and always ask them to try to identify some skills which are effective for them.

Here’s a very brief list of some grounding skills you may find useful in guiding a discussion around grounding techniques:

name 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you smell, and one thing you can taste.

Paced breathing:
this is a breathing technique in which you use a longer exhale than inhale, e.g. inhale for a count of 3, exhale for a count of 4.

Use an object:
hold something, notice and describe the object’s features. A keyring can be great since there’s different textures, colors, if you shake it, it makes noise, etc.

Count backwards from 100 by 7s, or any other number but seven is one that most people have to put at least a little thought into.

Change up your body position:
This might seem silly, but sometimes moving and shifting can help to ground us in the present moment.

Alphabet game:
Choose a category, and name things in the category following the letters of the alphabet. This can also be used as a group grounding exercise.

Use a scent (eg essential oil, orange, breath mint, etc):
Scent is often one of the stronger sensory inputs we can use, and can be really effective to get someone back to the present.

We encourage people to develop “coping cards” which they can carry with them that include some supports/resources one one side, and a brief list of techniques that they find useful on the other side, to carry on them. In times of high emotional distress, people often have difficulty remembering what works for them, and this is a concrete thing which you can suggest people reference in a time of crisis/high stress, and which you can ask if they would like help utilizing any of the techniques on their card.

Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO-DBT) teaches a skill called PROVE, for being assertive with an open mind. This is one model you can use for setting boundaries, if you choose to use a model.

DBT teaches a skill called DEARMAN, for achieving your objectives in an interpersonal setting. This is another model which you can use for setting boundaries.

Managing Emotions

There are three options we all have when dealing with emotions, but humans are all so different and have different thresholds for what will make them choose an option:

SO! Let’s look into these options!

Express/release them. This option is ideal! You know you’re having them, but you don’t necessarily need to know what they are. So how do you go about doing this?

Talking about it with a safe and receptive person is a great way to express feelings, but this requires at least some awareness of what exactly the feelings are

Crying is a natural way that the body releases emotions — it’s okay to cry!!!

Moving your body can help to release some of the hard-to-name feelings from your body — remember, feelings get stored in your body

Creating (eg art, creative writing, crafts, building things, etc) can release unknown feelings and expand the ways you have to describe them

Contain/Hold them

This is great for when you have immediate demands that you need to focus on, but this is not a permanent solution, you still need to express/release them eventually! Sometimes other humans can help with this via hugs. With consent.

Protect them

Sometimes when we’re having lots of feelings we protect them by lashing out at others, but this just leaves us with more feelings to deal with.

Other times, we protect our feelings by withholding and isolating them from others.

Neither of these options are super effective as feelings like to feed off of feelings, so ideally finding a way to express them is the goal!

STOP 12345 for helping others deal with psychological trauma

1. I’m #1 - It’s not my emergency.

Should I help this person directly, or should I help them find another person? Consider your mental/physical comfort, whether you need them to come to you later, and if you need anything in order to be most effective.

  1. What’s going on with you?

    Ask open-ended, nonjudgmental questions, WITHOUT asking specific details about the trauma. You only need a general idea. Be aware of how much detail you can handle, and enforce that, but otherwise let them set the level of detail in the conversation. If they seem to be getting too upset or as though they are disconnecting, refocus on the present.

  2. Don’t get any on me

    Maintain and enforce your boundaries. Maintain separation between the other person’s feelings and your own (eg, don’t take on someone else’s emotional experience). Stay mindful of your own internal experience, and if you’re getting overwhelmed, go back to number one,

  3. Are there any more

    Are there other mental or physical conditions exacerbating the current issue? Are there other people dealing with this same issue who might need the same help, or be able to provide support to each other?

  4. Now we arrive

    Once the situation is clear to you, it’s time for interventions.

    You may ask whether they want to vent or if they’d like practical help resolving a stressful situation.

    You may ask whether they’d like some kind of soothing touch or you may offer them physical sustenance like food, water, warm clothing, etc.

    Once the interventions are complete or the person is no longer interested in your immediate support, make a concrete plan to follow up with them.

    This can be as simple as “I’ll text you tomorrow to see how you feel.”If you cannot follow up with them, something like, “I’ll have someone from our group check on you in a few days” can work.

    You can also ask them if they have a friend or support person they’d like to follow-up with. Your check-up with them can just be making sure they’ve contacted their other support.

Post Trauma Coping Skills


Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO-DBT) teaches a skill called PROVE, for being assertive with an open mind. This is one model you can use for setting boundaries, if you choose to use a model.

learn your internal experience, even if it’s not how I imagined it, makes me feel that we value our relationship.’


DBT teaches a skill called DEARMAN, for achieving your ob- jectives in an interpersonal setting. This is another model which you can use for setting boundaries.

Group Trauma Debriefing overview:

This section was adapted from a Fact Sheet developed and distributed by the American Counseling Association’s Traumatology Interest Network, Please download the most updated versions by going to

Debriefing time and duration:


1st Phase-Introduction

The following information is provided to the group:

IMPORTANT: No media presence should be allowed!

2nd Phase-Fact Phase:

Participants are asked (response is optional):

IMPORTANT: This kind of questioning works for groups of 20 or fewer members, where every group member answers the same question. If the groups are larger, a different technique might be used (following more of a chronological order: So when the incident occurred: Who arrived first? Who arrived next and what happened?).

3rd Phase-Thought Phase:

Participants are asked (response is optional):

IMPORTANT: This phase personalizes the experience for the participant. It makes it part of them rather than a

collection of facts outside of them.

4th Phase-Reaction Phase:

Participants are asked (response is optional):

IMPORTANT: This segment may last between 30–45 min. depending on the intensity of the event. Focus is given to

participants emotions.

5th Phase-Symptom Phase:

Participants are asked (response is optional):

IMPORTANT: Explain that usually there are three occurrences of signs and symptoms discussed.

  1. Those that occur immediately during the event, those that occur

  2. during the next few days, and those that are left over and are still experienced 3–5 days after the incident

  3. at the time of the debriefing

6th Phase-Teaching Phase

7th Phase-Re-entry Phase

IMPORTANT: During this phase, group debriefing leaders can also provide encouragement and support. They can also ask what might be one positive thing that came out of this critical incident. It is helpful to have a resource list (phone numbers and addresses) available for each group member.

DISCLAIMER: Debriefing is a good first step for helping people process their direct involvement with traumatic events, however, counselors must have specific training in debriefing prior to engaging in any type of debriefing exercise with survivors.

This diagram describes the National Empowerment Center’s model of recovery based on research they and others have carried out. The model describes the process of how people are labeled mentally ill and recover

Suggested Reading

Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World: A Guide for Activists and Their Allies” by Pattrice Jones

Critical Incident Stress Debriefing: CISD : An Operations Manual for the Prevention of Traumatic Stress Among Emergency and Disaster Workers” by Jeffrey T. Mitchell

Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others” by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky and Con- nie Burk

Trauma is Really Strange” by Steve Haines (Author) and Sophie Standing (Illustrator)

Retrieved from Symbiosis PDX zine library, 9/24/2021