Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) for PTSD
There are multiple ways to tackle the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Which means even those people with complex and persistent PTSD can find a therapy – or combination of therapies – that is beneficial.
One of the many options is Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) and this article answers questions such as ‘What is TRE in the treatment of PTSD?’ and ‘How can tension and trauma release exercises be used?’.
The development of TRE
First, we need to explore the concept behind TRE.
The technique was formulated by Dr David Berceli, who is highly respected in the international field of trauma intervention and conflict resolution. Dr Berceli based this programme on his experience of working with people with PTSD during a career that involved delivering trauma relief workshops and recovery support in countries such as Israel/Palestine, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Yemen and Lebanon.
It is widely understood that humans store stress in their muscles. It is a natural reaction to trauma and part of our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ instinct. There have been various studies on how tension in our body supports if not escalates our emotional and mental anxiety.
The psoas muscle, located at the base of the spine, is responsible for putting us into a self-protective ‘ball’ when in ‘fight, flight or freeze’. Whenever you experience something shocking, traumatic, or that you (consciously or subconsciously) perceive as a threat, your psoas muscle constricts and ‘locks in’ the tension in the body. Once the tension energy is contracted into the body it stays there.
Dr Berceli developed Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) to release this tension.
Dr Berceli used this physiological link between emotional responses and muscles to create a series of exercises that help the body to release trauma and tension. By delivering workshops on this technique, he evidenced the potential for it to reduce reliance on psychotherapy or drugs to treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
TRE in practice for PTSD
We previously interviewed Katherine Meehan, PTSD survivor and author, who explained “I signed up for one session a week for six weeks. I fell, weeping, through the door before my first session, no idea what was about to happen.
You don’t have to say anything and no one touches you. The series of movements are easy to do and can be adapted so that anyone can do them. You can stop the shaking at any time. It is weird, gentle, pleasant, soothing and magnificent.
When the shaking started in my thighs I knew I had felt it before: a year ago when my thighs had been trembling. So it hadn’t been my body shutting down, it had been my body releasing tension.
TRE was simply the greatest discovery in the world for me because it had instant benefits. The first session lasted an hour and a half and a calm swept over me. I got home and slept for four hours solid, something I hadn’t done for months.
The benefits of my TRE experience included: eliminated anxiety and symptoms of PTSD; more energy; better clarity and understanding of people and circumstances; ability to sleep; reduced muscle tension; release of emotions in a manageable way; more confidence and self-acceptance.
TRE was a transformative process. I was able to re-connect with a part of myself I had lost and I cried about the fact I had wanted to kill ‘old me’. I had started to uncover a ‘me’ I could love.”
TRE exercises explained
The TRE programme works by focusing on deep muscle memory. It uses seven core activities – including muscle stretches – in a process which “activates a natural reflex mechanism of shaking or vibrating that releases muscular tension, calming down the nervous system.”
It can be a therapy option delivered in group settings or one-to-one. It is simple enough to be feasible for diverse levels of fitness and agility. Not least as it can be modified to take account of any physical boundaries.
In essence, the combination of activities creates a residual muscle vibration that moves along your legs and up through your body. It is possible to regulate this if the tremor becomes overwhelming. The rest period after the exercises and follow-up muscle shaking gives your mind and body chance to settle into a more relaxed state.
The aim is to create a natural balance. Including inducing improved sleep, boosting energy, tackling muscle pain, and increasing emotional resilience.
During the time spent learning the technique, the source of trauma is not explored. When you are familiar with this programme of exercises, the recommendation is that it is repeated for two or three sessions a week, with each lasting around 10 to 15 minutes.
It is important that the exercise programme is taught correctly (by someone trained in the process), in an environment that makes the individual feel safe and comfortable.
How to find a TRE therapist
There are extensive clinical trials underway to verify the effectiveness of TRE, though anecdotal evidence suggests many people find it does achieve significant improvements. This includes people with PTSD as well as those with chronic illnesses connected to muscle health, such as Arthritis and Fibromyalgia.
You can find out more information or find a therapist near you here: traumaprevention.com
It’s important to note, that while choosing your PTSD recovery path you need to address both the symptoms and the underlying condition. 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.
Read Katherine’s full self-healing journey in her book ‘Brushing My Teeth with Baby Lotion’ which is available in paperback on Amazon.
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