This pamphlet is the first of the TRT instructional aides for victims of crime. The pamphlet number is:
The First Phase of TRT;
Identifying and Describing Difficult Experiences
Writing is a very valuable therapeutic tool. It helps to bring clarity and understanding to events that are difficult to recall. It also provides an orderly way of reviewing facts and identifying feelings about subjects that have caused stress. Because writing has such a positive effect on the process of recollection, we incorporate it as a fundamental part of TRT.
Phase One of TRT begins with a written description of your experiences. This description takes the form of a specially written letter. There are five basic elements of this description. It is important that all of these elements be included and no others added.
The first element is the person to whom the letter is written. When a criminal act is the focus of therapy, the letter is usually written to the person who committed the crime. Second person language (“you”) is used rather than the third person (“he,” “she,” “him,” or “her”) because it assist the writer in returning more effectively to that time. As an example, a person assaulted by rape who is writing in Phase One would say:
We went to dinner. You were courteous and nice. I enjoyed your company. When you were driving me home, you began to change suddenly.”
The second person (“you”) allows the person to approach the incident directly. If the third person (“he,” “she,” “him,” or “her”) is used in place of the second person, the entire TRT process may be thrown askew and the process rendered ineffectual.
The second element, which you probably noticed as you read that example, is the tense of the verbs in the letter. Descriptions should always be written in the past tense. The reason is that as long as the emotional response has not been thoroughly addressed, the past experience exists in the unconscious as a current and ongoing process. By speaking of the event as history while simultaneously addressing the emotional response that has long existed inside, you start the process through which the experience is eventually put behind you.
The third element of the letter is the approximate time and place in which the particular incident occurred. For example, a spouse physically assaulted many times over several years would use this element to help sort out the different incidents of abuse by writing
“The first incident occurred after we had only been married 3 months. We were living in the apartment on Hickory St. You came home late and I asked you where you had been. You became enraged. ”
At the beginning of your writing, remembering such specific information is usually difficult, as most of the experiences have been blurred together. If there have been many trauma-causing experiences, as occurs in crimes involving domestic violence, the different events may have been blurred together. However, once you have described several incidents as precisely as you can, you will remember much more readily the specifics of when the other events occurred.
The fourth element is an explanation of what happened. This should be as detailed and accurate an account as you can provide. Philosophy, opinions or rhetorical explanations should be left out. The following example shows how a person would report the factual elements of a trauma -causing experience.
*Note – All examples in this series are fictitious and included only for the purpose of demonstrating how to do TRT.
“Carey and I had just come home from shopping. We were carrying the groceries into the house. Two men opened the door and walked into our den. They took guns from under their jackets and pointed them at us. We didn’t say anything. Then one man walked over to Carey and ordered her to the floor. While she was laying face down he put the barrel to the back of her head and cocked the hammer into the ready to fire position. He ordered me to give the other man everything that was valuable in the house. He said that they knew where everything was and that if I left anything of value out, he would kill her. I told them we had a safe and said the combination as I talked. I went to the other part of the house while the second man followed me. I opened the safe and gave them the silver, cash and jewelry that were inside. I took them to the bedroom and gave them the jewelry kept there. When I got back to the room I asked if they wanted the silver plate trays or TV sets or any of the larger items. The man uncocked his gun while it was still pointing at her. Without saying any- thing else, they took the things I had given them and left.”
Providing an account of such a difficult story requires much support from one’s group. Such support can be given more readily when the ac- count is accompanied by a description of the -individual’s emotions at the time the incident occurred. Consequently, the fifth element of the description involves your feelings. These feelings are expressed simply and without embellishment. For example, in the case above, the writer would have added, either during the report of the facts or directly thereafter, what he felt during the event:
“I felt fear when I saw you.”
“I felt terrified that my wife would be hurt.”
“When you pointed the gun at Carey, I was paralyzed with terror, shock, numbness, and disbelief. I also felt deep hurt for what might happen to her.”
I feel rage now remembering that she might have been hurt.”
“When it was over, I was shocked and concerned for my wife.”
It is extremely important that you not couch feelings – regardless of who caused the trauma or how heinous the event – in terms of anyone or anything making you feel one thing or another. The loss that is yours as a result of this horrifying (and unjust) experience will be resolved only if the feelings accompanying it are identified as your own first and then shared with others. Assignment of responsibility for those feelings to anyone or anything else (even though the perpetrators are responsible for your being hurt) at this juncture of the trauma resolution process will have the same effect as your never having done the hard work needed to discover them in the first place. In other words, an expression of emotion preceded by “you made me feel” or “you hurt me,” instead of “I felt hurt,” will reduce a portion of your ability to feel the emotion and thus completely dissipate the negative influence its repression has had on you. The sooner you are able to identify and experience those emotions within the therapeutic process as your own, the sooner the trauma will lose its influence on your life.
A complete description that includes all five elements follows.
* Note – This is a graphic description of a violent assault. Even though it is fictitious example, it may still be painful to read.
“We had just returned from the play. Gary was putting the car in the garage. I noticed the backdoor was opened. At first I was surprised. Then I was shocked and afraid. I went out to the garage to tell Gary. When I walked in the door, you grabbed me by the back of my head. Your hand was around my neck. You pushed me to the floor and into the bicycles and cans that were there. You put your knee in my back and pulled my head to the rear. I could feel the handle bars of the bike against the side of my-head. Then you hit me on the other side. It hurt very much. You hit me again. My ears began to ring. You kept hitting me. I was numb and then started to lose consciousness. You dragged me by my head and neck into the kitchen. I was afraid I was going to die. You kicked me and beat me. I couldn’t breathe and passed out again. I remember being placed on a stretcher and then into an ambulance. I found out later my husband had been shot. He was not killed, but was hurt very badly. I felt paralyzed, numb and thought that I was almost dead.”
At the beginning of TRT, the fear of confronting the feelings resulting from so much loss tends to inhibit one’s desire to read out loud what has been written. There is another problem, too some people have been exposed to such severe (and so many) incidents of trauma that they really don’t know what aspect of the trauma-causing event is appropriate to share. In addition, they may have retained their experiences of these episodes for such a long time that to mention them, even in the controlled TRT group, might seem overwhelming at first. Consequently, at these special times, make sure to read your descriptions with the close support of your counselor.
When reading the description, relate it aloud as if you are reading from any written passage. If the description does seem overwhelming or you feel like crying, then know that stopping for a moment and crying while reading about a traumatic experience from one’s life is the most common occurrence for all participants in TRT. Your counselor and / or your group provide the necessary support during such expressions of deeply felt emotion. You should be strengthened by these people’s caring and support and thus aided in completing your reading at a pace that is appropriate for you. The group, one member at a time, will from time to time tell you how your story has affected them. Sometimes, these reflections will consist only of one-word expressions of feeling such as “shock,” “hurt,” “anger,” or “sadness.” At other times group members will tell you how you look to them both while you were reading and now that you’re sharing of the description is completed. Through these responses, you should eventually feel, if you don’t at the very beginning, even greater amounts of caring through real and shared understanding.
Describing More than One Trauma-Causing Experience
After one, two or even three incidents have been read, it usually becomes easier to remember and describe others. Sometimes during a reading, you might share a great number of descriptions. At other times, one will be all that you want to read. Eventually, you will find that unless some- thing is getting in the way, you will automatically recall all the trauma-causing incidents to which you were exposed.
As each trauma causing experience is “brought up” to your conscious mind for a clear recollection, your feelings resulting from those events are intended to be heard in an orderly and congruent way that begins to impart a feeling of personal completion. As this experience of completion starts to be felt, the second phase of TRT begins. In this phase, the objective of TRT is that the losses underpinning those emotions will be addressed and, finally, reconciled – and bring even more clarity to your understanding.
Each description of a trauma-causing experience takes the form of a letter which is addressed in the second person (“you”). This letter reports a particular event – the approximate time and place, what happened and your emotional response to it, which should be expressed directly. All verbs are in the past tense. The more difficult to describe incidents of violence should be written in conjunction with your counselor’s support. Descriptions are shared by reading them to your counselor and / or TRT group. Your counselor will provide a reading schedule appropriate for your needs.
The next pamphlet is the second TRT instructional aide. It explains how to do TRT Phase Two for victims of crime. The pamphlet number is: