Trauma Counseling: Transitioning from Victim to Survivor

Young trauma counselor sits across beautiful woman in striped top

Natural disasters, mass shootings, armed conflicts, physical assaults, sexual violence, vehicular accidents, child abuse, hate crimes, and domestic violence—these are just a handful of examples of traumatic experiences people suffer. Trauma counselors are compassionate, genuinely caring people who are resilient enough to hear horrible stories every day in order to help others recover from them.

General Stages of Trauma Recovery

Trauma counselors recognize that, although victims all go through a recovery process that is unique to themselves, there are a few definable phases. Some experts identify these stages as follows:

  1. Silence: Victims may be in shock or denial, or they may avoid talking about it because of shame, guilt, or isolation.
  2. Victimhood: Victims acknowledge that they have experienced trauma and feel compelled to confront their experiences and emotions.
  3. Survivorship: People identify more as a survivor than as a victim. They begin to see themselves as more resilient and less damaged.
  4. Transcendence: Those who do feel that they are thriving and that they have turned their trauma into meaningful experiences. Some may decide to help others who experienced similar traumas.


In the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, victims feel unsafe. They may be scared to leave the house, fearful of interacting with others and reluctant to talk. It’s the role of the trauma counselor to gently guide the victim toward a stabilized state. This may take days or weeks for victims of acute trauma, like house fires or physical assaults.

Victims of ongoing trauma, like child abuse, may work toward stabilization for months or even years. During this time, trauma counselors often find it helpful to focus on relaxation techniques and coping therapies. The goal is to help the victim calm down and feel safe enough to explore trauma recovery therapies.

Healing and Integration

Guiding the individual in feeling safe and secure is still essential in this phase. Only when the individual feels safe can he or she explore experiences and emotions without feeling overwhelmed or panicked. During the healing process, individuals often work through feelings of grief and loss. They are mourning the loss of the person that they once were, before the trauma.

At the same time, they are working toward making meaning of their experiences, redefining their sense of self and envisioning a new future for themselves. The end of the active healing process is marked by integration. The survivor integrates the trauma into his or her life, but no longer accepts that he or she is wholly defined by it.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.