Healing Loss and Trauma: How Therapy Helps

When bad things happen, such as loss or trauma, the brain can be overwhelmed with the negative information about the experience. With the help of the defense mechanism called dissociation, the brain goes into shock, and it kind of shuts down. It does not process the information in the usual way. So, it is unable to deal effectively with the experience.

Therapy helps the brain process the negative information; therapy helps change the way the person’s brain experiences the loss or trauma. In this way, therapy helps fix the overwhelmed brain and heal the broken heart.

But, how?

  • Therapy helps calm the brain. A calm brain functions better than an agitated one.
  • The therapeutic relationship provides an emotionally safe environment, where the brain can process the information that it has about the loss or trauma. The presence of another, caring person is crucial in helping the brain to function better and deal with the negative experience.
  • The therapeutic relationship enables the brain to assimilate and accommodate the new, negative information. Assimilation and accommodation helps the brain to modify its old concepts (accommodation) and reshape the incoming information (assimilation) so that the new information fits in with the old, and the survivor can make better sense of it.
  • Therapy helps the survivor explore the negative meanings of the event and find new ways of thinking and feeling about it. It helps the survivor modify thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with the event, so that the survivor feels less sad, angry or depressed.
  • When people are very emotional, their ability to think is affected. They tend to make errors in their thinking. One example is all-or-nothing thinking, like “The person I lost was wonderful”, when, really, the person had his/her good aspects and bad aspects, as well. Therapy helps the survivor identify thinking errors about the loss or trauma and change that thinking.
  • Therapy changes the ways the brain stores memories of the event and how it uses those memories.
  • Therapy affects the actual structures and pathways in the brain, so that it can process the loss or trauma and formulate new, more helpful ways of thinking and feeling about it.
  • As it fixes the overwhelmed brain, therapy helps heal the broken heart.