I have worked in the mental health field for 16 years and I have become recognized in my work as someone that is good at working with trauma. I have not gone through any of the popular trauma trainings although I am trained in a therapy called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). DBT is a specialized therapy that helps people to build a life worth living. So far, every client I have teamed up with in the DBT program has experienced significant early childhood trauma.
In 2006 I started to work at a facility where the program taught The 6 Boxes. The 6 Boxes is a way to look at trauma. It helps show in a simple and concrete way how trauma affects a person’s feelings, which leads to certain behaviors. These behaviors that stem from the trauma or hurt usually start out as coping skills that enabled that person to deal with the trauma. I will illustrate this with the example from the last Blog- Name the Trauma. The behaviors are a way people use to protect themselves, but inevitably the behaviors that start out as coping skills end up limiting people from living full lives.
When I teach my clients or colleagues The 6 Boxes, I start by drawing out 6 boxes on a sheet of paper. I label them, and then I start with Box 3 – The Trauma Box or what I call The Hurt Box. I have the people write their traumas in Box 3. Next, I ask them to work backwards to Box 2- Old Feelings. They list in this box as many feelings as possible that surfaced from the trauma. Examples could be: sad, lonely, hurt or scared. After they have named their feelings I ask them to look at and list things in Box One – Old Behaviors. As I said earlier these are behaviors that start out as coping skills but end up not serving people well in the long run.
Once my clients name their trauma, and share the feelings and behaviors that stem from the trauma, I then skip Box 4- The Justice/Healing Box. I have them focus instead on Box 5- New Feelings. I say to them “If you were able to get your justice and heal what do you think your new feelings would be?” Many times, the new feelings are the opposite of the old feelings. Some examples are: happier, more content, loved, secure, calm, trusting, etc. Then I move to the last Box listed on the paper, Box 6, which is named New Behaviors. I help explain to them “What behaviors would stem from getting justice or healing, and feeling these new feelings?” Many times people can name new behaviors very easily and other times they need some extra guidance. In the end they will say the opposite of the old behaviors along with new and healthier behaviors. Examples are: I will no longer drink excessively, I will go back to college, I will bring my grades up, I will have healthy relationships, I will no longer have panic attacks etc.
So, at this point in our journey towards healing, we have looked at and filled out all of the Boxes except Box 4, The Justice/Healing Box. We talk about some ideas on how the person can heal from their trauma. “What is it you want to do to heal?” “Who do you need to confront?” This is a creative process where people can list anything. Some have even listed “murder my abuser.” To my relief, as people are working on finding their justice, they have not concluded that murder, or that hiring a hit man would ultimately bring them justice!
Usually, when I teach The 6 Boxes, my clients feel hopeful afterwards. They also feel some relief of the guilt and shame they feel, and they recognized that their current dysfunctional behaviors started out as coping strategies, and the trauma is the real culprit, not that they themselves are bad.
Here is the example below:
Box 1: Old Behaviors: Cutting; Good grades then grades fell; Isolating; Pushing parents away; Panic attacks; Not trying new things; Cutting
Box 2: Old Feelings: Anger; Hurt; Sadness; Distrust; Anxious; Lonely; Betrayal
Box 3: Trauma/Hurt- Too many moves; Promises of no more moves and then more moves; Being made fun of for being sad; Sad goodbyes; New schools; Being the new girl
Box 4: Justice/Healing-I want to forgive my Dad; I want make new friends; I want to learn to plug into my life; Get over my social anxiety
Box 5: New Feelings- Content; Trusting; Calm; Happier; Confident; Loved; Secure; Joy
Box 6: New Behaviors- Good grades; Make and keep a best friend; Let my family back in to my world; Get a new passion or hobby; Go to college; No more panic attacks; Finish things I start; No longer cutting
***The 6 Boxes are used at Third Way Center and I use them regularly – Meg’n Deaner