A Compassionate Path to Wholeness: Exploring TIST for Trans* and Nonbinary Individuals Living with the Legacy of Trauma

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Living with the Legacy of Trauma: Transgender, Nonbinary, and Gender Nonconforming Experiences

The living legacy of trauma leaves lasting emotional scars, shaping individuals’ lives in countless ways. For transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people, the consequences of trauma can be even more challenging. Many face childhood trauma and are more likely to encounter other forms of trauma throughout their lives. This emotional burden can impact their mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.

Recent studies have shed light on the increased prevalence of trauma among transgender and gender-nonbinary individuals. In a 2021 study conducted by Thoma et al., it was found that 73% of transgender adolescents reported psychological abuse, 39% reported physical abuse, and 19% reported sexual abuse. Compared to their cisgender peers, transgender adolescents had higher odds of experiencing psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.

Another study conducted in 2019 by Peng et al. revealed that transgender and gender-nonbinary adolescents in China reported high rates of abuse, neglect, and bullying at home and in school. These experiences contributed to high rates of symptoms associated with poor mental health.

Given these alarming statistics, it is crucial to explore healing pathways specifically tailored to the unique experiences of transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming individuals. One such approach is Trauma-Informed Stabilization Treatment (TIST), which offers a gentle and compassionate method for addressing the living legacy of trauma in a way that fosters connection, acceptance, and self-compassion.

A Path to Healing: TIST for Transgender, Nonbinary, and Gender Nonconforming Individuals

Navigating the Challenges of Trauma

Trauma can leave you feeling disempowered and emotionally fragmented, with thoughts and emotions that overwhelm and torment you. Your body may react in ways you don’t understand, and you might find yourself drawn to negative or damaging behaviours.

Everyday activities can become triggers, sparking a chain reaction of painful memories and emotions. This can lead to distancing yourself from the part of you that endured the trauma, creating an instinctive inner division as a coping mechanism. Trauma survivors often face a world filled with triggers, leaving them feeling helpless, misunderstood, and struggling to manage daily life or pursue their dreams.

Healing with TIST: A Gentle Approach

For transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming individuals who have experienced accumulated harmful events, healing is possible. If the idea of reliving your past through psychotherapy seems daunting, Trauma-Informed Stabilization Treatment (TIST) offers a hopeful alternative.

TIST focuses on understanding and treating the effects of traumatic events without forcing you to relive your past. This gentle, compassionate approach can help you regain a sense of connection, acceptance, and self-compassion on your journey toward healing and wholeness.

Understanding Trauma-Informed Stabilization Treatment (TIST)

TIST is designed for individuals who have experienced complex trauma and exhibit structural dissociation. Complex trauma, such as childhood neglect or abandonment, can leave people with painful memories, overwhelming emotions, and a compromised nervous system, affecting their ability to cope with daily challenges and trauma-related triggers.

Many trauma survivors may not realize that their intense thoughts, feelings, sensations, and reactions are driven by implicit trauma memories stored in the body, rather than by present experiences. To manage this distress, they often develop ‘survival adaptations’ that may have once been helpful but have now become chronic, unhelpful, or dangerous.

The TIST Model: An Integrated Approach

Developed by renowned trauma expert Dr. Janina Fisher, TIST is based on theoretical principles from neuroscience research on trauma and structural dissociation theory. TIST integrates mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, ego-state techniques, and Internal Family Systems.

In TIST, clients are encouraged to be curious about their various parts, mindfully noticing each aspect of themselves to better understand the messages these parts convey about their fears and needs. By recognizing the actions and reactions of these parts as instinctive responses to trauma, individuals can start reducing the shame, blame, and judgment they often internalize and begin the healing process.

Benefits and Applications of TIST

TIST has been successfully used to address the challenges of treating individuals with diagnoses of complex PTSD, borderline personality, bipolar disorder, addictive and eating disorders, and dissociative disorders. The TIST model empowers trauma survivors by focusing on treating the effects of traumatic events and the legacy carried forward by the parts holding the trauma, rather than focusing on the events themselves. TIST aims to resolve the impacts of trauma without reliving it.

The primary focus of TIST is to help people feel more connected, accepting, and self-compassionate. TIST also adheres to the gold standard of trauma treatment by utilizing a three-phase approach.

Embracing Healing with Trauma-Informed Stabilization Treatment

The Journey through TIST: Reconnecting with Your Inner Self

As you face situations that remind you of past traumas, it may feel as though you are caught in an endless loop of fear and pain. Your body reacts to these triggers as if it were reliving the traumatic experience, leaving you feeling trapped and vulnerable. Trauma-Informed Stabilization Treatment (TIST) acknowledges that trauma affects every aspect of your being and seeks to address these stressors with a compassionate and holistic approach, taking you through progressive phases of healing.

Unravelling the Science of Trauma

The first step of TIST is to demystify your trauma through psychoeducation. By providing a basic understanding of the science behind trauma and its effects on your brain and nervous system, TIST empowers you with knowledge about why your mind and body react as they do. This stage also explores why your memories of traumatic events may be fragmented or entirely absent, helping you to make sense of your experiences.

Embracing Mindfulness to Understand Your Inner Selves

In the second phase of TIST, you will learn about a model that explains how emotional distancing can occur as a result of trauma. This model is then applied to your personal experiences, helping you to understand how the legacy of your trauma manifests in your thoughts and actions. Through mindful self-exploration, you are encouraged to examine potentially destructive thoughts, impulses, and behaviours, recognizing that they are connected to the parts of you that endured trauma. By reframing your perspective and understanding of these thoughts and actions, you can begin to reconnect with each fragmented part of yourself.

Navigating Different Responses to Feelings, Impulses, and Behaviors

The next stage of TIST guides you in distinguishing between possible reactions, such as fight, flight, and freeze. By contemplating your emotions and behaviours through this lens and using non-judgmental language, you can learn to appreciate that your bodily reactions are normal adaptive responses to trauma.

Establishing Personal Emotional Boundaries with Your Inner Selves

In the final phase of TIST, you will work on establishing boundaries within yourself and building a new relationship with your emotions and impulses. By reframing your connection to your emotional experiences, you can dis-identify with the emotions themselves and the associated destructive impulses or behaviours, enabling you to forge a healthier relationship with yourself.

The Power of TIST: Reconnecting and Healing

TIST is grounded in the understanding that intense reactions to trauma are not indicative of a personality disorder or mental illness, but rather evidence of trauma-related fragmentation and alienation from the self. By observing distressing emotions and impulses as signals from your traumatized parts, you can learn to be curious about their fears and needs, rather than being defined by the emotions themselves. This mindfulness-based approach helps to reduce shame and self-blame, allowing you to focus on healing.

The healing process in TIST is centred on the legacy of traumatic events carried by your traumatized parts, rather than on the events themselves. By accepting and welcoming each part as a contributor to your survival and recognizing their strengths, you can create a life beyond trauma. As you begin to feel more warmly toward your traumatized parts, a sense of calm and safety can envelop you, instilling the belief that the past is over, and you are finally safe now.

Embracing the Promise of Trauma-Informed Stabilization Treatment

As a relatively new approach to healing, TIST has received an overwhelmingly positive response from clients who have embraced its focus on personal empowerment and self-understanding. Many have found it to be a more effective alternative to traditional therapy options like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), as it fosters optimism in overcoming impulsive behaviours and deepens their desire to learn more about themselves.

TIST is particularly well-suited for individuals grappling with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), Dissociative Identify Disorder (DID), or Other Specified Dissociative Disorder (OSDD), as it addresses the challenges arising from trauma with a strong emphasis on the fragmentation of the self. However, anyone who has experienced past trauma can potentially benefit from TIST, as it equips them with the knowledge and tools they need to take control of their emotions in a healthy, positive, and affirming way.

Recommended Reading

Explore the foundation of Trauma-informed Stabilization Treatment (TIST) by reading Dr. Janina Fisher’s bestselling books:

  • Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors: Overcoming Internal Self-Alienation by Dr. Janina Fisher, Ph.D.
  • Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma: A Workbook for Survivors and Therapists by Dr. Janina Fisher, Ph.D.

You may also wish to read her published findings in Trauma-Informed Stabilization Treatment: A New Approach to Treating Unsafe Behaviour. If you’re a therapist seeking education in this approach, visit the Academy of Therapy Wisdom’s TIST Certification Program.

Begin Your Journey Toward Healing

Want to work with me? As a senior facilitator of this approach, I warmly welcome you to explore TIST with me.

Begin your journey toward healing the ongoing impact of past harms by booking an online therapy session and embracing the promise of TIST.

Disclaimer: This blog shares general information only, not professional advice or recommendations. Consult healthcare providers for personal guidance. Decisions based on content are the reader's responsibility. Thank you.

Clayre runs a group practice of three queer and trans therapists, including youth therapist Audrey Wolfe, RCC, LGBT therapist Camber Giberson, RCC, CCC, and gender-affirming therapist Clayre Sessoms, RP, RCT, RCC, CCC, ATR-P. Work with us: book a session.

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