Therapists and clients may both experience dissociation as confusing or frightening. Dissociation doesn’t have to be complicated though – it can be simplified to the message “my mind keeps taking me away from the present moment”. Dissociation can be separated into everyday and pathological versions. Everyday dissociation, an example of which might be ‘driving on autopilot’ is a consequence of becoming so absorbed that attention is not automatically redirected to other stimuli. Pathological dissociation often occurs in the context of trauma. When experienced during a traumatic experience dissociation is understood to be a self-preservation reaction, designed to prevent further injury or to prevent the antagonization of a perpetrator. When experienced after a trauma dissociation might be understood as a form of ‘tuning in’ to traumatic memories (flashbacks) or ‘tuning out’ from the world.
Trauma, Dissociation, and Grounding is a guide written for clients who have experienced trauma and who are troubled by dissociation or dissociative experiences. Using simple language, the guide is written in three sections. Section 1 describes the dissociation that occurs when people go through traumatic events. Section 2 describes the dissociation that happens to traumatized people at later times. Section 3 guides the reader through specific steps that they can take to manage dissociation.
This is a Psychology Tools guide. Suggested uses include:
- Client handout – use as a psychoeducation and skills-development resource
- Discussion point – use to provoke a discussion and explore client beliefs
- Therapist learning tool – improve your familiarity with a psychological construct
- Teaching resource – use as a learning tool during training
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- Schauer, M., & Elbert, T. (2010). Dissociation following traumatic stress. Journal of Psychology, 218, 109-127.
- Sloan, D. M., Marx, B. P., Bovin, M. J., Feinstein, B. A., & Gallagher, M. W. (2012). Written exposure as an intervention for PTSD: A randomized clinical trial with motor vehicle accident survivors. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 50(10), 627-635.
- Spence, J., Titov, N., Johnston, L., Jones, M. P., Dear, B. F., & Solley, K. (2014). Internet-based trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy for PTSD with and without exposure components: a randomised controlled trial. Journal of Affective Disorders, 162, 73-80.
- Wisco, B. E., Sloan, D. M., & Marx, B. P. (2013). Cognitive emotion regulation and written exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder. Clinical Psychological Science, 1(4), 435-442.