• Susanne Thomas

Why I chose to focus on TRE®

Our sense of belonging and security is based on relationships, neurological, mental and physical. Cultural and religious traditions were formed around these facts, to increase cohesion and safety. From a place of security and belonging, people were then able to venture out in curiosity and open mindedness to connect with others who lived, looked and behaved differently.

Trauma is inherently the experience of separateness, of loss of control and safety. As such, trauma as an 'experience' was always part of life. But symptoms of traumatisation can be avoided altogether if the person is brought back into connection and safety, co-regulated, heard and seen.

But for this to happen we need people who are present and grounded and securely anchored in relationships and community.

I do not belong to the people who think that the past was better in this regard. Although it may seem so, I think that we are just avoiding to look at historical facts that don't fit in this story.

A historic movie about a young woman brought into the university auditorium by a professor - bound on a stretcher - to demonstrate what was called 'hysteria' - part of a YouTube lecture of Robert Scaer 'How the Brain Works in Trauma' brought that home to me the other day. There is a short sequence of an old movie where a University Professor demonstrated to his (all male) students the 'disease' of 'hysteria'. He brought a young girl into the auditorium to demonstrate how she froze when being touched and how she howled and tried to free herself when the freeze subsided. We can imagine why she froze - but do we want to ? We have come a long way from there - also from burning witches, extracting 'confessions' by torture (athough that is especially hard to eradicate) and punishing African slaves for picking cotton too slow by cutting off their hands. Nay, no one wants to hear those things, the story goes on about family as the bedrock of safety (really?) and the village as the bedrock of community.

People who don't feel safe and have lost their sense of connection have to deny their shadow* ( if they don't they fear losing themselves as well - an existential threat) and one of the ways to do away with it - at least temporary - is to project it on others. Traumatised people who are cast out of relational safety are not 'gone', they are desperately looking for another way to connect. Their own tribe of outcasts is better than nothing. The 'us versus them' thinking escalates until whole people groups are dehumanised. The folly thinking that 'doing away with them' will solve the problem is highly entrenched and used by those who have discovered the power of deliberately using projection on a wide scale. We all know where that leads - and I personally and subjectively believe that not a single soul who has been cast out, separated and/or murdered (with our without government sanction) is 'gone' and 'forgotten'.

*shadow as a metaphor for all that an individual regards as unwanted and 'bad' in themselves - according to the cultural and religious context in which they live.


We live in interesting times, in a time where change is no longer a choice but a compelling desire. I see the hierarchical top down structures of government, culture and religion falling apart - they are contaminated by competition and greed and can no longer provide security and safety for the masses. Granted, the fact that many relational necessities such as caring for the sick, teaching children and educating adults have been turned into 'jobs' that secure people's finances aka livelihood is the reason why there will be great resistance to change. A whole lot of jobs would be lost if we were all healthy and happy, able to make our own decisions and manifest our ideas.

I think we should not lament the falling apart of those structures but where is the alternative ? Back to the past, living in tribes of 'us' and 'them'? Everyone in their private universe ? That's what happens in the so called first world, utter separateness, also called individualism. Or something else entirely?


Do you know that people at the time thought that mobility by the use of cars and aeroplanes will destroy society and community ? Do you know that people thought at the advent of movies and TV that they will destroy families and relationships ? Well, they all have their pitfalls but we learned to use them and live with them. These things came up as the time was right, borne out of a collective desire for more mobility and better transfer of knowledge and communication.

The rise of the Internet, especially social media is also borne out of a collective desire - the desire for connection. There is a deep knowledge in people about the connectedness of all things and all people. This technology was created in a human effort (via technology, what else) to manifest the spiritual knowledge of interconnectedness - and the transfer of energy/charge/ideas however one might define that. And now, that a few generations have grown up with it, it is bringing the issue of projection to a head. We can create virtual copies of ourselves and wander into a virtual world, unloading our shadows on others - and the powers that are (mainly government and business) have to position themselves. Both media and government use it deliberately to collect knowledge/data from us in an effort to secure their power. Some try to regulate and forbid the use of it. Both will not succeed in the long run because people are catching up big time.

One of the side effects of projection being so blatantly obvious on the net is the fact that more and more people are asking why. Which leads to a better understanding of the role of projection in relationship in general which leads to the root of projection - the loss of connection and safety in relationships = trauma.

The political, economical, cultural and religious structures that are in place cannot serve the renewal of relationships unless they do away with competition and judgement which seems impossible. It is the old question if the law is for the people or if the people are under the law. Nothing has changed, really, just the scope is bigger.

Time will tell, we are living in interesting times.


There is ancient knowledge available in Africa which is true to the nature of trauma - and the remedy is inclusion and connection. Yes, even with people who break the law, they are deemed 'lost' , the metaphor is one of the soul being out of touch with the body, floating in space. How apt this is, thinking of dissociation. The remedy is assurance and safety. The perpetrator is called into the circle, he or she is assured to be part of the whole, and important, the people collectively pray for his soul to come back into the body and take its right place. The ceremony includes physical movement, rhythm and dance which always creates safety and cohesion.

As long as we look at 'evil' as something 'out there' - the devil or demons or such - nothing will change for the better. I will never forget people being told that they must not 'open the door to the devil' by doing this or that. A friend who grew up in Apartheit South Africa cannot forget that his teacher at the Mission school spanked him because he was dreaming himself out of the window, telling him that 'an idle mind opens the floodgates to evil'. Can't we do better than that ?

Yet - it is also a fact that some people are indeed permanently unable to heal the wound of trauma just as not everyone heals from physical disease. They will always lack empathy, can't trust, lack the ability for secure attachment and therefore good judgement. But we don't generally let those who suffer physical illness alone or cast them out ? It has been done, especially with contagious disease or permanent physical handicaps but there was also always sustained effort to find cause and a remedy. The wilful and unnatural separation of body and mind in mainstream medical circles, the focus on expert knowledge at the expense of looking at the whole person has created even more of a sense of being chunked into slices - of separateness and disintegration within individuals. It needs to change and change it will. How many people will lose their lives in the process is anyone's guess but this 19th century way of looking at a human being and making sense of life is no longer holding up.

Now we have different facts to content with: For instance teenagers living in perpetual dissociation maintaining their virtual persona on social media to attract positive projection - and kill themselves when the avatar is exposed as a lie. This is tragic, but part of the change of awareness around projection and transference. The media uses this just as a hype for news without ever asking the questions that are crying for answers.

This is where knowledge of the physical and therefore emotional - and subsequent mental impact of trauma makes a huge difference. We fear what we don't understand - and there are many many false and damaging myths around trauma - the symptoms of unresolved trauma I mean, especially repetition compulsion and the 'bite of the vampire' thing.


Change is possible

Knowledge about recent insight into trauma should and can be transferred from the top down

but the real impact is an experience, not a knowledge.

People in power are also hijacked by trauma and lack safe connection,

maybe even more so than the average Joe. Because being a public persona

means attracting mass projection and it requires immense energy and resilience to live with that phenomenon - especially in our time of quick fake news.

Give them a tool and an experience that works, they will want it.

Give them a lecture and some will listen - some will reject it.

The combination of both - experience and knowledge - brings change

It is normal for people to resist looking at their own trauma - and nearly impossible to talk about it, the emotional charge is too high.

It is normal for people to project their own shadow onto others - there is a need for relief and life making sense and this seems to be the way out, at least temporary.

The remedy is inclusion and connection among people and integration of fragmented traumatic memories together with a release of the physical and neurological patterns within the individual


If we have a tool that helps people to reduce their triggers, brings the 'soul' back into the 'body' and aids the integration (even if totally subconscious) of experience on an individual level, that tool needs to be offered to everyone and all. Small changes in everyday life can have big and immediate impact on relationships, and they do.

Frances Ward found that 6 weeks of TRE for township children aged 8 to 12 lead to some of them being able to talk about what happened to them for the first time - and some not only being able to remember but having the strength to testify in court !

My vision for TRE® and the whole complex item of trauma was always to roll TRE® out to as many people as possible - and at the same time convey the knowledge about the neurology, physiology and subsequent mental symptoms in an accessible, simple way. There is too much academic talk and not enough resources for people caught in a reactive state of feeling separate, unseen and unheard.

I would not offer Steven Porges' lecture on the science of compassion to the people at Woza Moya, a place in rural Africa where not everyone speaks English well enough. But I explained the role of facial expression, tone of voice and body language in relationships. The unexpressive flat face and staring in a dissociated state was immediately recognised by everyone. But now it was no longer the 'stroke of the devil' or mere 'stubbornness', it was seen as what is is - a state of non-communication, being 'out there', hijacked by the reptilian brain. The role of presence and grounding was also well known to people - no need to learn new words for what they all know to be true. I was the one who learned from them.

I know that TRE® is not the ultimate answer - but it is a chance for a soft intervention on the level of direct experience and relationship. It is separate from culture and religion but can be integrated into whatever people use to create community and safety. It can be fun and laughter, but also allow release of sadness and anger in safety. That is more than many other 'interventions' provide.


A word to the role of the 'story'. The mind is compelled to integrate even the most horrific experience - we have a dire need for context and things making sense. So the mind comes up with the story - it may lay blame on others entirely or lay guilt on the individual only, it may use cultural and religious beliefs to explain - but it is always a story. It can never take everything and everyone into account and is always subjective. The story also changes over time, with more insight and life experience. But it is necessary to create it - our everyday functioning depends on it. Cognitive therapy - aka talking about it - focusses on the story, the mental construct and the emotions that it creates in the individual. The premise it that by changing the story (our thoughts) we can change our emotional responses. Well, try that. It may have an impact immediately but it may also take a lifetime - and changing ones thoughts also happens without therapy, just by having different life experiences. The relationship between the therapist and the patient is just as important as the techniques - a grounded and safe therapist makes a difference while an ungrounded and projecting one does more harm than good.

The story is also a bulwark, a safety measure, a way of avoiding to touch on the original wound. If we can tell our story without being overwhelmed, we are 'healed' ? Not so, as Peter Levine* found out. He is a pioneer in engaging the body in trauma work. The more often we repeat the story, the more difficult it is to let go of it - and letting go is necessary for the body to shed and re-write the neurological and physiological patterns related to the experience.

* Levine helped a 2 year old child that was excessively hyperactive and unable to sleep longer than two hours at a time by observing the boy jumping up and down on his mothers lap incessantly - never cuddling into her lap to rest. He asked about his birth experience. He was stuck in the birth canal and nearly died, had to be extracted by tongues. Levine re - created this experience for him by instructing the mother to place her hands on his head and resist his jumping, holding his head tight with pressure. She did this for a week every time he jumped up and down - and he finally collapsed into her lap and slept there for hours. He was a different child after that.

The story only plays a role once we have words to tell and labels for our emotions. It can be a hindrance and in some instances it is better not to rehearse it - not to yourself and not to others. But it has a place in healing ! When the emotional charge goes down with TRE® it also becomes much easier to think/talk - and include more detail that didn't fit into the old version. Immense revelations can be the result, all based on less reactiveness, more emotional capacity and better self-regulation.


That's it - my case for emphasis on community and relationships as well as TRE® as a life skill and self-help tool and a means to transfer much needed knowledge to people on a bigger scale.

It is a matter of networking and a structure that is dense enough to hold up the cause and loose enough to slip though the existing structures of competition and hierarchy. Top down and bottom up needs to work hand in hand.



I attended the 'Save the Children' conference some time ago. There were people working from the top (influencing legislature and political decisions from the UN down to National Governments) and people working from the bottom in communities. The question was asked if it makes sense to change laws to outlaw spanking when the majority of the population wants to hold on to it. The question was asked if it makes sense to help individual children and not being able to include the parents and the community. The answer to both was 'YES'.

Today I received an email from this organisation saying that yesterday the Constitutional Court of South Africa declared defence of reasonable chastisement unconstitutional. People will mumble and shout and declare that this is the end of peace and welfare - who are they to take away our right to spank, slap or otherwise intimidate, bully and threaten our kids for the sake of 'good behaviour'. The judgement will bring a much needed public debate.


In the same manner I would like to see the case of how traumatised people - (yes, victims and perpetrators), barely able to remember what happened and churning out story after story in desperation, are treated by the courts and judges - and later in the prison system or as victims who were 'bitten by the vampire of evil' - taken to the courts and into public debate.

With all that is known about our human responses to overwhelm and our need for safety and belonging as a basis for healing it is time for change in the justice system.

South Africa did well - the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a serious attempt to do things differently. Not perfect but much better than, for instance, the US/GB and Russians at the end of WW2 just killing all the Nazis and thinking that was the end of it.

It is not - look at Germany now.


I teach TRE® (Tension and Trauma Release Exercise) under license from TRE® for All Inc (David Berceli PhD).  All rights belong to TRE® for All Inc. Visit their website