NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Trauma Therapy: Using the Container Exercise Between Therapy Sessions

Processing unresolved trauma with a skilled trauma-informed psychotherapist can be one of the most healing things that you do for yourself.  Over time, unresolved trauma can have detrimental emotional and physical effects.  It can also have unintended repercussions for your children (see my article: Your Unresolved Trauma Can Have Repercussions For Your Children).  

Although working through psychological trauma is beneficial for you and your family, you need to know how to take care of yourself between your psychotherapy sessions, which is why I'm discussing the container exercise in this article (see my article: Is Self Care Selfish?).

Trauma Therapy: Using the Container Exercise Between Psychotherapy Sessions

Why is the Preparation Stage of Trauma Therapy Important?
The concept of emotional containment is very important when you're working on psychological trauma in therapy because processing trauma doesn't stop when you leave your psychotherapist's office.  It continues between sessions, sometimes consciously and often unconsciously.

Having a way to cope with whatever comes up between therapy sessions is essential and, hopefully, your psychotherapist has taken time in the preparation phase of trauma therapy to teach you various coping skills to deal with whatever comes up when you're not in therapy (see my article: Developing Internal Resources and Coping Strategies).

In my opinion as a trauma therapist, some therapists rush too quickly to process the trauma before they have helped clients with the necessary preparation work.  This tends to occur with psychotherapists who might have been trained to do train work a long time, before there was less of an emphasis on preparation, and they haven't updated their skills.

Also, some therapists want to respond to clients' demands that they start processing trauma immediately before clients are emotionally prepared to do the work. While it's understandable that clients want relief from the effects of unresolved trauma as soon as possible, trauma therapists need to explain why it's important to help clients prepare to do the work and assess a client's readiness.

Clients who aren't sufficiently prepared during the preparation phase of trauma therapy are often overwhelmed by processing their trauma.  If they haven't gone through the preparation phase of trauma therapy, they often don't have the skills to cope with the emotions that come up.

The worst part is that some clients, who aren't sufficiently prepared and who feel overwhelmed in trauma therapy, leave prematurely and they might be too afraid to see another trauma therapist (see my article:  When Clients Leave Therapy Prematurely).

What is the Container Exercise?
The container exercise is one way to cope with difficult emotions that come up between psychotherapy sessions.

This exercise can also be used at the end of a trauma therapy session.  In a prior article, I discussed other helpful coping strategies that might be useful to you.

The container exercise is a simple yet powerful coping strategy where you use your imagination to create a container to temporarily place any disturbing thoughts, feelings, memories, images, physical sensations, dreams or whatever is disturbing to you so that you don't feel overwhelmed until your next psychotherapy session.

Some people like to imagine that their container remains in their psychotherapist's office so that they leave whatever comes up that's disturbing with their therapist until the next time.  Where you decide to imagine your container is up to you.  Choose a place that feels right.

Steps For Doing the Container Exercise
The following steps are part of the basic container exercise, and you can enhance them in whatever ways that feel meaningful to you:
  • Begin by taking a few deep, cleansing breaths and, if it feels comfortable for you, close your eyes.  If closing your eyes doesn't feel comfortable, you can focus on a particular spot on the floor so that your attention doesn't wander.
  • Now, imagine a safe and secure container of whatever type, size, color feels right for you.  Take whatever time you need to make this personally meaningful, and decide where you want to imagine keeping it.
  • Imagine yourself placing whatever is disturbing you in this container.
  • Imagine yourself shutting the container and making it secure in whatever way feels right to you (e.g., locking it, locking it and burying it underground or in the ocean, etc).
  • If anything else comes up that's disturbing to you during the week, you can place it in your container until you're ready to talk to your therapist about it at your next session.
Unresolved trauma can be detrimental to you and your loved ones physically and emotionally, which is why it's important to process unresolved trauma with a trauma therapist.

The preparation phase of trauma therapy is an important part of getting ready to do trauma work so that you don't feel overwhelmed.  Some clients need more time in the preparation phase than others.  This is something that your psychotherapist will assess before you process trauma.

The container exercise is one way to deal with anything disturbing that comes up between psychotherapy sessions.  It can also be used at the end of a trauma session to help you to de-stress.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been struggling with unresolved trauma, you could benefit from working with a skilled trauma therapist who can help you to overcome your trauma (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

There is no quick fix for overcoming trauma, especially developmental trauma, but a skilled trauma therapist can help you to overcome trauma with safe and effective trauma therapies, including:  EMDR therapySomatic Experiencing, and clinical hypnosis (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples, and I specialize in helping clients to overcome both shock trauma and developmental trauma.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.