what is TRE? by Kate Niles

TRE stands for Tension, or Trauma, Releasing Exercises. Animals, unless they are in captivity and cannot escape, are really good at shaking off disaster. They may “go to ground” and look dead, with their breathing almost completely stopped. But as often happens in the wild, the predator is run off or distracted and the “dead” animal comes to life. It moves from near paralysis to deeper breathing to standing up and shaking their whole body (like a dog does) and running away. (There are oodles of You Tube videos of this phenomenon.)

When humans are similarly exposed to a situation that is perceived as life or death we tend instead to lock up and hold that trauma in our bodies for a long time. We don’t know how to shake it off. TRE was developed by Dr. David Barceli, who spent years in war torn countries doing humanitarian work. In a bomb shelter in Lebanon, he noticed how everyone crouched over in a universal wince when a bomb landed overhead. The kids cried and shook; the adults stayed stoic, perhaps to “look strong” for the kids. Unfortunately we pay a price for this locking up.

Our autonomic nervous system is responsible for our response to traumatic events. We go into fight or flight, or when that is impossible, some kind of freeze or limpness (remember the prey gone to ground). We can’t help this. Often victims of trauma blame themselves relentlessly for these responses but in fact their nervous systems are just doing what they should be – playing dead in hopes of later escape or resuscitation.

TRE exercises access autonomic responses to unlock long held trauma in muscles, fascia, and other tissue. Over time, a person does not even need the exercises to start shaking, and with practice their body returns to a pre-traumatized state. One can be watching TV and shake; in fact, turning the mind off from analysis while shaking is a good idea. However, in my experience, as we release long held stuff, we also sometimes release the emotional part of this. That is why, in my practice, I hope to combine TRE with my EMDR and other trauma protocols to effect more thorough and lasting change.

I came to TRE after 26 years of my own trauma work. I’d done everything and still had a “right side/left side” split in terms of feeling, and recurrent bouts of numbness, anger, and pain. TRE has radically altered this stuckness, and I have been able to move past deeper and deeper trauma into a place of peace.

I am currently finishing my training to get fully certified in TRE. I hope in the next 6 months or so to thoroughly integrate it into my practice. I am already using tidbits as I witness people go through EMDR (they almost inevitably re-enact the crouch position and when they start to sit up is usually when the relief starts to come in and re-integration of stuck parts takes place). Please let me know if this interests you!