Trauma and Temporality: Navigating Healing through Therapeutic Approaches​

by Daniel E.,

"The paradox of trauma is that it has both the power to destroy and the power to transform and resurrect." ~ Peter A. Levine

Temporality is the experience of time and our relationship to it. It is how we perceive the past, present, and future and how we make sense of our lives in the context of time. Temporality is disrupted by trauma, impacting an individual's relationship with time.

Trauma can disrupt temporality in a number of ways. People who have experienced trauma may:
  • Feel like time is passing slowly. This can be because they are constantly reliving the traumatic event in their minds, or because they are avoiding thinking about it altogether.
  • Feel like they are stuck in the past. This can be because they are unable to let go of the trauma, or because they feel like they can't move on with their lives.
  • Have difficulty imagining a future. This can be because they feel like the future is uncertain or hopeless, or because they are afraid of re-experiencing the trauma.
  • Become hyper-focused on the present moment. This can be a way of avoiding thinking about the trauma, or it can be a way of trying to cope with the overwhelming emotions that are associated with it.
  • Have difficulty experiencing emotions in the present moment. This can be because they are constantly dissociating from their emotions, or because they are afraid of feeling the same emotions that they felt during the traumatic event.
The disruption of temporality can have a significant impact on people's lives. It can make it difficult to function in daily life, to maintain relationships, and to experience joy. However, there are a number of therapeutic interventions that can help to restore temporality in people who have experienced trauma.

Some of these interventions include:

Client-Centered Therapy: Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers' client-centered therapy provides individuals with a safe and non-judgmental space to explore their traumatic experiences, supporting the integration of past events into their temporal perspective. By fostering empathy, unconditional positive regard, and active listening, Rogers' approach assists clients in gaining insight into their own resources, reclaiming personal agency, and constructing a more coherent narrative of their past, present, and future. Rogers believed that in relation to trauma, individuals have an innate capacity for self-healing and growth, and with a supportive and nonjudgmental therapeutic environment, they can access their own inner resources to navigate and heal from traumatic experiences.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a highly effective approach for trauma, combining cognitive and behavioral techniques to facilitate healing. It involves identifying and challenging distorted thinking patterns and negative beliefs related to the traumatic experience, promoting cognitive restructuring. Albert Ellis believed that it is not the traumatic event itself that directly causes emotional distress, but rather one's beliefs and interpretations about the event that lead to psychological suffering. Additionally, CBT incorporates behavioral strategies to address maladaptive behaviors and promote positive change. By integrating both cognitive and behavioral approaches, CBT empowers individuals to develop practical coping skills, regulate their emotions, and achieve lasting recovery from trauma.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) & Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Marsha Linehan's Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) combines cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and acceptance to address trauma-related emotional struggles and self-destructive behaviors, helping individuals develop mindfulness, manage distressing emotions, and engage with the present moment for healing and resilience. Similarly, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) by Russ Harris and Steven Hayes emphasizes accepting challenging thoughts and emotions, living by personal values, and taking purposeful action. ACT recognizes the impact of trauma on avoidance and feeling stuck, using cognitive diffusion techniques to help individuals create space from distressing thoughts and memories, fostering a more flexible and compassionate relationship with their internal experiences. Metacognitive Therapy (MCT), developed by Adrian Wells, is another therapy that helps individuals detach from unproductive rumination.

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) provides an effective approach to trauma by empowering individuals to tap into their strengths and resources, envision a positive future, identify exceptions to the problem, and track progress. By shifting the focus away from the traumatic event and towards solutions and resilience, SFBT instills hope, motivation, and a sense of agency in individuals as they navigate their journey of healing and recovery. Steve de Shazer, one of the founders of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), emphasized that exploring clients' exceptions to the problem and their previous successes in coping with trauma can facilitate a shift towards constructive change and help individuals build on their existing resilience.

Satir Transformational Systemic Therapy: Virginia Satir

Virginia Satir's family systems therapy acknowledges that trauma has a profound impact on individuals as well as the entire family. By exploring family dynamics and communication patterns, Satir's approach helps clients understand how trauma has shaped their relationships. Satir Therapy uses various experiential techniques, including family sculpting and communication exercises, to explore and transform patterns of relating. It focuses on the broader systemic context and the impact of relationships on individual well-being.

Gestalt Therapy: Fritz Perls, Laura Perls, and Paul Goodman

Gestalt therapy believes that unresolved trauma can manifest as unfinished business, such as unexpressed emotions, unmet needs, or unresolved conflicts, which hinder present-centered awareness. Through techniques like guided imagery, role-playing, or empty chair work, gestalt therapy encourages clients to revisit and engage with the unprocessed aspects of their trauma. By bringing these experiences into awareness, expressing and resolving unfinished business, and promoting self-acceptance and self-support, gestalt therapy aims to help individuals release the grip of past trauma, allowing them to be fully present, engaged, and connected with their current experience.

Analytical Psychology: Karen Horney

Karen Horney's analytical approach explores how past traumas shape an individual's perceptions, relationships, and aspirations. By gaining insight into unconscious processes perpetuating trauma-related struggles, individuals can work towards integrating past experiences, reclaiming personal power, and envisioning a future that aligns with their authentic selves. Mark Epstein and Michael Eigen are prominent contemporary psychoanalytic therapists who have made significant contributions to the field of trauma through their extensive writings.

Internal Family Systems: Richard Schwartz

Internal Family Systems (IFS), developed by Richard Schwartz, focuses on the internal dynamics within an individual's psyche. It recognizes that an individual's internal system comprises different parts with unique emotions, beliefs, and roles. When trauma occurs, certain parts can become burdened, carrying the pain and perpetuating distressing patterns. IFS aims to restore harmony within the internal system by facilitating a compassionate relationship with all parts. Individuals can achieve an integrated and balanced state of being by identifying and healing wounded parts while empowering protective parts. This process helps restore temporal orientation by aligning the parts' perspectives towards healing the past, engaging with the present, and envisioning a positive future.

Polyvagal Theory: Stephen Porges

Polyvagal Theory, developed by Stephen Porges, provides a neurobiological perspective, emphasizing the role of the autonomic nervous system. Porges believes that trauma disrupts the autonomic nervous system's regulation of social engagement, leading to physiological and behavioral responses that can be addressed through interventions promoting safety, connection, and regulation. Therapists utilizing Polyvagal Theory can help individuals regulate their physiological responses, restore a sense of safety, and support their temporal orientation towards a balanced engagement with the world.

Bibliotherapy: Harnessing the Power of Literature

Bibliotherapy can aid in trauma healing by providing individuals with a sense of validation, understanding, and perspective through reading books or stories that address traumatic experiences, offering comfort and guidance for their own healing journey. By engaging with stories that reflect their experiences, individuals can gain new perspectives, insights, and tools for navigating their trauma and reestablishing their temporal orientation.

Narrative Therapy: Rewriting the Trauma Narrative

By reframing the narrative and exploring alternative interpretations, narrative therapy promotes resilience, agency, and a sense of control over one's own story. For example, a person who experienced a traumatic event may have internalized feelings of guilt and shame. Through narrative therapy, they can explore their narrative, reframe the event as an unfortunate circumstance rather than a reflection of their worth, and develop a narrative that highlights their resilience and strengths in overcoming adversity. This process allows them to gradually heal from the trauma and regain a sense of agency and control over their life.

Art Therapy: Expressive Pathways to Healing

Viewing art can be a profoundly life-affirming experience, offering solace, inspiration, and a deeper connection to the human experience. In addition to its inherent beauty and emotional resonance, art therapy is a powerful tool for individuals to navigate and process their trauma. By engaging in artistic expression, individuals can explore their innermost thoughts and emotions, often unveiling new insights and perspectives. This creative outlet provides a safe space for self-discovery, allowing individuals to delve into the depths of their trauma and gradually work towards healing and growth. Through art therapy, individuals are empowered to harness their innate creativity, fostering a sense of agency and resilience as they envision a more positive and hopeful future.

Nature Therapy: The Healing Power of Nature

Nature therapy, also referred to as ecotherapy or green therapy, harnesses the healing power of nature to support trauma recovery and foster nature relatedness. Spending time in natural environments has been found to reduce stress, anxiety, and trauma symptoms, providing a tranquil and nurturing space for individuals to find solace, connect with the present moment, and establish a sense of safety and grounding. Engaging in activities like walking in forests, gardening, or immersing oneself in natural landscapes induces a calming effect on the nervous system, promoting relaxation and facilitating a stronger connection with nature. This connection serves as a metaphorical backdrop for exploring themes of growth, resilience, and transformation, aligning with the individual's own healing journey.


In the realm of trauma and temporality, integrating therapeutic approaches such as client-centered therapy, rational emotive behavior therapy, family systems therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, analytical psychology, polyvagal theory, bibliotherapy, narrative therapy, art therapy, and Internal Family Systems (IFS) provides a comprehensive framework for healing and growth. By recognizing the significance of temporal orientation, therapists play a vital role in helping individuals restore their sense of time, reclaim personal agency, and shape their narratives of healing and growth. By integrating these approaches, individuals can navigate trauma, reconcile their past, engage with the present, and cultivate a hopeful and empowered vision of their future.

More on time:

More on therapy:

"Psychotherapy broadly translates to caring for the soul."

"All therapies endeavor to find ways of freeing you from outdated belief programs."