How Rewind Therapy can help people with PTSD
Going back over deeply distressing events can sometimes be the only way to make sense of them, and to control your responses and the lasting damage they can do to your mental health.
Doing this safely, with the minimum of distress, is vital though.
The key is to find the right therapy – and a professional therapist – to help you to understand and manage your trauma and your individual responses.
For many people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), Rewind Therapy is a valuable and comfortable solution.
This article explains what it is, how it works and some of the background to its potential as a PTSD treatment option.
Leading supporters of Rewind techniques
The International Association for Rewind Trauma Therapy (formed by Dr David Muss, who developed the Rewind technique in the early ’90s) has trained hundreds of UK mental health professionals in this technique. .
Another organisation that strongly supports Rewind Therapy for PTSD is the Human Givens Institute. This is a group of professional organisations and therapists who believe human experience is underpinned by traits given to them by their genes.
What does that mean?
The nurture v nature debate will always divide opinion, but it is irrefutable that all humans are born with genetic features that determine behaviours and emotions to some degree. It’s an ingrained part of our evolutionary process.
These features are sometimes referred to as the ‘givens’, the aspects of our genetic make-up and in-built drivers that cause us to act and respond in certain ways.
Our givens create physical needs which must be met. Such as the instinctive requirement to breathe, eat, sleep and get sensory stimulation from our environment.
However, genetic givens can also be said to drive our psychological needs. Humans have a fundamental need for emotional checks and balances. Such as, how safe we feel, how loved we are as we grow, and our sense of self-worth and connection to others.
When these emotional needs are not met, the result can be anxiety, depression and PTSD.
If you use this method of explaining the human psyche, then the rewind therapy technique is a process of ‘rebooting’ some of your emotional givens.
What is Rewind Therapy?
You may hear this therapy option referred to as a visual-kinaesthetic dissociation technique. This is a formal way of saying that it enables you to review and revisit events, in a controlled and dissociative way. You expose yourself to memories without connecting to the emotional and mental impact they create.
The basic principle is that in one relatively short session (or a series of short sessions) a therapist enables you to rewind to the start of your traumatic experience, without having to retell or relive it in a way that potentially adds to its harm.
How does rewind therapy work?
When you undergo Rewind therapy, the trained therapist will help you to become totally relaxed and immersed in a ‘safe space’. This involves breathing techniques and your own imagination, taking you to a time and place where you felt happiest.
Then, the therapist will often ask you to place a screen in your safe space. You use this to rewind to the experiences that created your PTSD, without having to describe them out loud.
In this way, your recall is projected ‘remotely’ from you, and you can watch events from a distance, in your safe space. In theory, neutralising their emotional arousal.
The therapist may also ask you to become part of the action – taking a central role in this ‘film’ – or to press the fast forward button to get you from the start to the finish quickly.
Each ‘projection’ of events can be different speeds and levels of involvement, depending on your comfort and distress levels. The aim is always to achieve this rewinding of events in an unobtrusive way that manages your emotional pain levels.
Supporters of this therapy option believe that using the rewind process helps people with PTSD to disconnect their flight, fight and freeze reactions. You reprogramme your brain to associate feeling relaxed and safe with these key memories.
For example, if being in a car is a trigger, then during rewind, a person can see themselves driving one confidently, whilst relaxed and in control.
Benefits of the rewind technique
One of the advantages of Rewind Therapy in treating the symptoms of PTSD is that it’s a carefully measured and controlled way to explore traumatic memories. The person with PTSD can spool back through time, without revealing sensitive or private details of their trauma.
For example, you don’t need to name an abuser or reveal information about a military or commercial situation during the therapy session.
It can also be used for C-PTSD and other mental health issues that are not connected to one specific event. You can rewind memories and activities over a prolonged period, or replay perceived or imagined threats too, as a ‘dissociative’ technique.
Also, supporters and practitioners of this method of treating PTSD believe it to be an excellent way to permanently stop involuntary recall of traumas. You control the narrative during your session, from start to finish, potentially releasing you from spontaneous recollection.
Some also believe it’s a quick way to address PTSD, as in some cases substantial progress can be made in a single session, or from just two or three guided rewind experiences.
The most commonly mentioned effects that the rewind technique can have are:
- “increased confidence
- no more flashbacks
- more positive mood
- ability to speak about the trauma without triggering alarm or difficulty
- no more fear
The fact that the treatment was quick, easy and painless was commented on by very many and most said they would recommend the method to others.”
This case study from the Human Givens Institute explains more about the process and the resulting effects: “We established that my calm, relaxing safe place would be a warm beach filled with sunshine and soft rolling waves. As Sue slowly counted to 20 with my exhales, I felt myself slip into a deeply relaxed state where I was fully conscious of everything happening around me. Once I was fully relaxed, I felt my eyes begin to quickly move back and forth on their own – which I assumed was REM.
Sue’s soothing voice then led me to a television set on the beach with a DVD player holding a DVD of my trauma experience. As soon as she mentioned the contents of the DVD I was immediately transported back to it – I was there – and I instantly started crying and feeling the same life threatening distress of the trauma. I had never accessed it so quickly before.
Usually it would take quite a while for me to get worked up enough to fully access those emotions. It seemed as if I was below all the layers I had built up to protect myself from what was clearly still a very real and vivid terror connected to the memory.
She brought me back to my relaxing beach to recover from the shock of feeling my naked emotions hit me so quickly. A few deep breaths later I was ready to try again. I approached with no problems this time since I was more prepared, and Sue took me through the rewind process. I saw myself watching the TV with the trauma playing forwards and backwards several times, but not actually seeing the screen. I then watched it play forwards on the screen and I went backwards through it; it was much more work than I thought it would be to imagine the sequence in reverse.
As the memory was playing faster and faster, all I saw was a blur with particular moments as snapshots within it. I felt the distress on my face lessen and my breath normalize. After seeing it fly by countless times forwards and backwards, from various angles and points of view, I began to disconnect from it. My emotions were neutral and I saw the trauma as a matter of fact, and nothing else. After I had the pleasure of destroying the DVD in any way I wanted, Sue took me through scenarios that had triggered me in the past, describing my calm and confident reactions to them in the future.
Sue then took the opportunity to remind me of positive aspects of my personality, my life accomplishments, and reinforce the idea that I have the abilities to realize my dreams.
In short, it felt like she helped me remove the negative feelings and replace them with positive life affirming feelings. After she brought me back to the room, I felt relaxed, happy and emotionally exhausted.
Two weeks after my rewind, and I still felt great – confident, strong and happy. By then I had had many experiences of noticing “defunked” triggers, and I look forward to many more non-reactions.”
“THE treatment was like magic.” These were the words of a euphoric client after treatment with Keith for symptoms of trauma which had been affecting his life for the past three months. He worked as a gravedigger and had been present during an exhumation. He was plagued by the memory of a dead face grinning at him and of having to handle and walk through a decaying corpse.
Another beneficiary of the Rewind Technique said after his trauma: “I had started to get nightmares. I didn’t sleep very well and I had flashbacks at night. Or, when mowing the grass, something would trigger off the incident”. In just one session, using the rewind technique, the panic and anxiety which had dogged him was gone. “I went from not being able to function to functioning. It took the fear and anxiety away.”
Is rewind therapy always effective?
As PTSD UK constantly reiterates, this condition is always deeply personal and unique. The best ways to treat it can vary greatly between different individuals.
However, some people find rewind therapy highly beneficial.
One Canadian university study into its impact reported that “Rewind was more effective than control treatment sessions, with 40% recovered and 57% having reliably improved or recovered after Rewind.”
There are also reports that it can be a successful treatment option for 85% of people who use this therapy for just three sessions.
Sometimes a therapist delivers Rewind Therapy within a mixed programme of support, to find out what works best for each individual. This can include, for example, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) too.
NICE guidance updated in 2018 recommends the use of trauma focused psychological treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults, specifically the use of Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Please remember, these aren’t meant to be medical recommendations, but they’re tactics that have worked for others and might work for you, too. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.
- Adams, Shona & Allan, Steven. (2019). The effectiveness of Human Givens Rewind treatment for trauma. Mental Health Review Journal. 24. 228-242. 10.1108/MHRJ-10-2018-0033.
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