Group therapy can be a powerful healing process for women who have experienced sexual violence, as it offers a safe space to meet and share stories with other survivors.. Over the years Solace’s rape crisis has evolved to widen its offerings and now has a significant focus on body-focused and movement-based therapies, with examples including: Trauma Informed Yoga; African Drumming workshops; and TRE® (Trauma & Tension Releasing Exercises).
When explaining our groups program, people are usually fairly familiar with what yoga and drumming might entail (downward dogs and djembe drums). On the other hand, it’s not unusual to be asked: ‘Umm, sorry… but what exactly is TRE®?’ Good question! TRE® are exercises that assist the body in releasing deep muscular patterns of stress, tension and trauma. These vibrations release muscular tension and consequently calm the nervous system. This might sound overwhelming – but these reflexive tremors are natural, and when activated in a safe and controlled environment can help the body return to a state of balance. Not only this, but TRE®’s reflexive muscle vibrations generally feel pleasant and soothing.
At NLRC, our classes are held in small groups of 4 or 5 women, and continue for 8 weeks. During this period, the TRE® provider will equip attendees with the knowledge to continue practising this exercise from home at their leisure – a lifelong self-help technique.
We interviewed our TRE® provider, Michelle Azdajic, to find out more.
Michelle, what first attracted you to TRE?
I was curious about the body's natural tremor mechanism as a means of self-regulation and how the neurological & biological aspect of trauma recovery works. My background is as a dancer and I have always been an active person. At the time I was introduced to TRE® I was still suffering from post-traumatic stress, stemming from the emergency C-section I had during the birth of my son. I had sought out traditional talk therapy but my physical body still felt like two people; an upper and a lower half. It was TRE® that helped transform those blocked areas and integrate my body and mind back to a place of feeling whole.
Can you explain, as simply as possible, what goes on in a typical TRE® class?
A typical TRE® session consists of a series of 6 exercises which gently warm up the body and prepare it for activating the tremor mechanism. The 7th exercise is performed either lying down on a mat or sitting with one's back against the wall, and it is during this time where the body is free to gently shake off built up tension, stress, and contracted energy that has been stored in the physical tissues. At the very end of the session there is always a time of quiet and stillness which allows the body and mind to integrate the information from the tremor experience.
Why do you think TRE® works so well for women accessing North London Rape Crisis?
TRE® works so well for the clients of NLRC because it is a non-verbal, somatic method of identifying and releasing tension patterns held in the body. Each client will have uninterrupted time, discovering their body and befriending it again. The TRE® provider is there to help each client release this tension in a slow and controlled manner and build up their confidence by advocating their own self-regulation. The gentle releasing of tension via the tremor mechanism increases internal space and promotes inner calmness and personal safety. Practicing TRE® also decreases the fear-response in social engagement settings, corrects posture, and builds overall mental and physical resiliency by toning up the nervous system. Once a client has completed several sessions of TRE® it is usually safe to then practice it at home.
How has the experience of working with NLRC and NLRC clients been for you personally?
My experience at NLRC has been extremely positive. The environment is very welcoming and safe, the staff have all been very friendly and accommodating. I have grown as a human being through facilitating TRE® groups at NLRC. Each group is different and presents to me a unique set of challenges as a TRE® provider. As in any other group setting, it takes about 2-3 sessions before the group find its own natural flow. Holding space for each group during those initial sessions humbles me and has taught me how to see every challenge as an opportunity to grow deeper, to let go of my perfectionistic tendencies and to just be, as I am. The connection between myself and each client is authentic and real (masks off) and I deeply care for the group's ability to co-regulate, which is also part of the therapeutic process. This is why I prefer to facilitate small groups of 3-4 people, so that I can establish a trust relationship with each client, assist them in their personal process, and give them a quality and professional experience of TRE®.