Posted by: Edward | September 19, 2022

The Swimming Pool of Trauma

Trauma therapy as learning to swim

We don’t start by throwing you into Mariana’s Trench. We start by teaching you safety skills before you even get in the water.

Then we take you to a pool with a nice graduated slope starting on one end from really shallow, maybe only as high as your waist so that you can always keep your head above water, and that may even be deep enough for you to use the diving board at the other end.

We’ll let you go in that shallow end so you get used to the feeling of being in the pool without it being too deep. We’ll let you practice getting in and out of the pool, so that you can start to feel confident you can do that if you need to.

Then we’ll take you in just a little bit deeper until we get to a place where you can always stand up to keep your head above water. Then we’ll practice you moving from trying to swim to standing, trying to float to standing, so that you get used to having that degree of safety.

And we’ll do a lot of skills training at that range, practicing swimming, different styles of strokes, practicing floating, practicing treading water. Always shallow enough that you can safely put your feet down and keep your head up and keep breathing.

A lot of the important work can be done at this level, you can build skills that could keep you alive if you fell into an ocean. Because we know, you’re not always going to be with instructors getting trained. Someday you may even decide to go swimming in much deeper waters.

When you’ve really learned the skills well at the level where you can put your feet down and get your head out of the water, it’s time to do at least some swimming in the deeper end, where there is a bottom but you can’t reach it with your feet.

You need to actually experience it to know that the skills you’ve learned can get you back to the surface and safety and out of that pool, even if you can’t put your feet on the bottom. You can even learn how to dive and swim under the water a little.

Even then you’ll have an instructor or a lifeguard there ready to help you, to pull you out, if you get into trouble in the deep end. And that allows you to have the confidence to do a little bit of that work and learn those skills.

None of this work is going to make the deep feelings and powerful currents of trauma go away. What it’s going to do is give you the skills to handle it when you find yourself in those waters. And you’ll develop the confidence of knowing you know how to swim, you know how to float, you know how to tread water, and you know how to get your head above water, so you can keep breathing.


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