Trauma recovery? Healing? Integration? Which words communicate a good outcome to you?

Recovery. Healing? Restoration? These words contain both information, movement, and emotion. What words do you like to use when describing the process of getting better after a traumatic experience? How do you communicate that you are better but not so much better that you have no more bad memories; that you have no more nightmares; that you are not triggered into panic when you see someone who abused you?

What words do you shy away from?

Let’s consider healing first.

I was and am being healed?

Some hear healing language as a completed task. “I have been healed.” Past tense. If I was in a wheelchair but now I walk…would I say I have been healed if I walk with a limp or need a walker to get around? Do you ever hear someone say, “I was healed, in part.” Would it be better to say I am being healed or I am recovering. Compared to Greek verb tenses, our English language doesn’t communicate well the ongoing state of something. In Greek, we can communicate a present perfect tense such as, “I was and am currently being healed” all in one verb form. But in English, we cannot communicate such an ongoing process without more words. Thus, when we use the shortcut, “I am healed,” it sounds like a finished job.


What about recovery? Restoration? Renewal? Recovery words are popular amongst former addicts. For them it connotes that they are no longer using but making the daily choice for sobriety. However, they recognize the danger exists of falling back into drunkenness and so they communicate that they are in a lifelong process. For some, however, recovery sounds like a failure–failure to find victory and failure to accept a new identity.  The truth is, few people outside of AA use the word recovery in every day speech. The other “r” words are more likely used in Christian circles but not so much in discussion of life after trauma.

Can you integrate trauma?

I have just finished reading Wounded I am More Awake: Finding Meaning after Terror by Julia Lieblich and Esad Boskailo (2012, Vanderbilt University Press). Julia helps tell Esad’s (a Bosnian doctor) experience of being held in 6 different concentration camps. He is now a psychiatrist in the US and works with trauma victims. However, he faced much brutality in being treated worse than one would treat an animal and so was not in good physical or psychological shape when he came to the U.S. I commend the book to those who want a basic understanding of trauma and of this thing we are trying to call healing and recovery. Listen to these quotes from Boskailo the psychiatrist,

 I can’t take away what happened” [said to another survivor]. But [I] can help [you] imagine a better future.

“You are fifty, not twenty-five. You will never be the person you were twenty-five years ago. Even if you didn’t have trauma, you would not be the same.”

What Boskailo is arguing for is integrating trauma into one’s present life. One cannot go back and recover what was lost. A trauma survivor is never going to be free from losses suffered. To do so would be to deny truth. Integration means allowing the reality of trauma and its losses while finding meaning and value to live in the present with hope and even joy. Integration requires acceptance and willingness to look for meaning and purpose.

I like the connotations of integration. But, I am not sure I like the word integration since it also doesn’t connote some level of arrival at a good enough place. What word would you use?


Filed under Abuse, counseling, counseling science, counseling skills, genocide, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychology, ptsd

17 responses to “Trauma recovery? Healing? Integration? Which words communicate a good outcome to you?

  1. Ro Eunkyung

    I would like to use the word, rebirth or new creation.
    God will change my life and be my lord, forever.

  2. Mending. That word makes me feel as if a person is being put back together. It sounds less harsh than healing. Healing has been overused and tends to allow many negative thoughts to enter. Hopefully if people start using mending it will stay as innocent as it is at present. I’ll keep looking. Maybe we have an even greater word that conveys much.

    Perhaps curing. Like mending, this denotes action is taking place to bring health back, albeit not wholly, but aiming for a goal to reach.

    Restoring. Not as helpful, because like healing, you are left feeling perfection is the goal. Since it is a lofty verb, using a softer word as suggested, might brace a broken person with more hope.

  3. I really like this dialogue because you’re helping us think through the language to give our clients that will help set expectations. I use an integrated approach, but work a lot with ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). I both like and don’t like the word “Acceptance” about trauma. I don’t like suggesting that folks accept that it’s OK that their trauma took place, per se. But I do like the idea of accepting all the feelings, thoughts, and memories as a part of one’s story and current experience. The hope would be to change one’s relationship with those memories and thoughts, not obliterate them or learn better strategies to fight them. So, I like acceptance in the company of other words.

  4. gettingrace

    Can you have one without the other….?
    Or do they ocurr within themselves, …the process of healing; does it lend to ‘a recovery’….and vice versa….?

  5. Jackie

    I kind of like the word integration and had not considered it before. Trauma changes you and some of the other words (at least for me) give the connotation of “getting past the trauma,” “getting over it” as I have heard several folks put it or somehow getting back to the way it was before the trauma. But trauma leaves a mark that may not be visible but can have the impact of altering daily activity the way a permanent physical injury would. Gradually, with physical limitation you learn to do things differently so the limitation in physical activity does limit ones aspirations. Integration seems to acknowledge that this experience will always be a part of your story, the tapestry of who you are perpetually becoming but it doesn’t have to be the focal point or defining event to claim your identity. Nor do you have to desparately focus on it to rid yourself of its effects.
    [just the weeblo ramblings of a student 🙂 ]

    • Jackie

      Correction to my previous comment I wrote “does limit aspirations” but intended to write “DOES NOT”…have to get better about proof reading before posting 🙂

  6. From all that I have read and my personal journey out of complex PTSD that integration is the bringing of trauma to the present moment. Trauma in childhood leaves parts of us stuck in coping mechanisms at the time of the trauma. Integration brings those stuck parts to present time when our skills have matured and developed to handle what we could not in childhood.

    In a way it is emptying the amygdala of stored trauma. if the fight or flight system of cortisol dumping is stopped trauma fades.

    Trauma fades when you stat present when triggers explode. if you can build focus on the breath and apply it at trigger points trauma integrates best at this moment.

    it is the moment trauma is the strongest and weakest. Endure and stay present to observe the cortisol dumping and all starts integrating right then.

    I say this after reading over 80 books on trauma and survivors andnthen finding my way out.

    I would recommend another book by Rick Hanson called Buddhas Brain. Who am I has no subject so we create the ego who is the issue with PTSD. What fires together wires together.


  7. Birthing, because rebirth sounds so final, like healed. Yes, we are all broken but not crushed. Hoping for some new vision to keep us striving for new direction to take our thought. I do agree that being born again is a great start. Not looking back, but going forward to the goal. Jesus is the perfector of our faith. Yet, we remain with memories that can haunt, so we should contemplate, reflect and meditate on ways to lighten their blow. Thanks for reminding where our strength comes from.

  8. Hard question. How do you come up with one word that shows you are “learning to be” who you are WITH the past trauma and you are “learning to be” in a positive healthy way? I was healed after 12 years of depression, yet I am recovering as far as alcoholism is concerned…one left totally and the other hangs on as far as cravings, addictive thoughts, etc.

    • I think I would have to go with …I am Learning to BE. I am learning to be with my past, present, and future in healthy ways. Processing Healing…processing recovery

  9. very little literature exists on the benefits from integrating our trauma.

    Our life will never be the same for the good or bad, the bell can not be unrung. For me, life has exploded with opportunity without the low self esteem, doubt guilt or shame being present.

    I have gained enormous gifts from enduring a childhood with a violent narcissist as a father, skills that few other possess. I understand that happiness take little in the way of need.

    I accept approval or disapproval now without judgment. The mind can be programmed on the left side with affirmations and no negative self talk. The right side houses our emotional regulation center and has no words, language, judgment. Words and numbers are pixels on this side of the brain.

    This side connects us with all on earth electrically as Jill Bolte Taylor has describe in her book Stroke of Insight.

    I laugh at labels now. You can call me anything or healing anything, it does not matter. nothing can touch our true self, no words, thoughts or intentions.

    I am healed, I believe. my triggers no longer flip my fight or flight switch, so thoughts or whatever fade as boring. My amygdala is either empty or those childhood traumas have come to present moment. Does not matter to me which one.

    I am all my emotions, fear, anger, sadness, doubt, joy and nine of them. The ego alone is a minuscule partof the mind, a golf ball in an Olympic swimming pool. We create it and then become slaves to its thoughts.

    The best way I can describe it, is that I am here as fully as possible without concern for the past or future, empty to experience all before me. Why waste time cognitively playing with it. be here and live
    Ife fully. That fits in perfectly with any religion or belief.

    Just my opinion and experience.

  10. I love the word healing because it feels so gentle and powerful at the same time. But I understand it connotes a feeling of finality. The process seems to be a blend of re-learning and re-imagining. Re-learning different skills and coping and re-imagining oneself as a person, through a new lens of compassion and acceptance of one’s wounded parts. Releasing is also important- releaing the pain, anger, and condemnation of oneself.

  11. Been thinking about this for a whole day…restored…that is what I experienced…brought back to working order whith mostly all the old parts with some new added in…scars, dents, but a fresh coat of shiny polish…restored.

  12. chewingtaffy

    I think healing is a journey. Integration is a good word for it, but I also think…where am I going? What is the destination? It’s a journey of knowing more about myself and how I react to people and making the hard changes required for true recovery.

  13. tu

    I like your blog. I been facing some traumatic situations based on a personal relationship, and the triggers are the worse. Trauma from the past joined the new trauma; so noe I must face both. The triggers from both are the worst. How do I make peace with both situations?

  14. Dawn

    Made complete: Perfect in Christ.

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