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How to avoid client discomfort in the Rewind Technique

3 specific protective language techniques to use when treating post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias

By Mark Tyrrell


The rewind technique is in itself an amazingly quick, comfortable and safe way to lift debilitating phobias and trauma. But the language you use when using the rewind technique is vital for both its effectiveness and your client's comfort.

Phobic or traumatized people often find that the slightest trigger 'sets them off'. And words can be powerful triggers. The very word 'spider' may spark terror in an arachnophobe. So sprinkling that word about while you work on a rewind with them can make the job of lifting the phobia harder than it need be.

Similarly, the words 'car crash' can frighten the traumatized car crash survivor, and even using the word 'memory' might have anxious connotations and set off an anxiety pattern.

For an effective rewind technique, we want the client to remain calm and relaxed throughout the session. However, we need to deal with very specific scary memories, so how can we do that without using potential 'trigger words'?

3 protective language strategies

  • Use 'code words'
    When rewinding a specific terrifying spider memory, instead of talking of: "the time when you were terrified by the big hairy spider jumping on your head from the grandfather clock" I simply refer to: "that wooden clock time".They know what I'm talking about, so I don't need to use the word 'spider' or 'jumped'. Similarly, the 'code' for a one-off car crash might simply be: "That time".
  • Reframe a 'memory' as a 'video'
    Traumatized and phobic people are plagued by their memories, so using the word 'memory' can provoke anxiety. But we can encourage disassociation from the traumatic memory during rewind by describing it as "that out of date video". A memory is part of a person, but a video is outside of them. The experience of "watching an out of date video" is very different from recalling a memory. And 'watching' something is also distinct from 'feeling it'. Plus, helpfully, the 'video' format is now out of date!
  • Change tense
    Traumatic memories feel as if they are happening right now (even if the original trauma happened decades before). After a rewind session, clients typically report that previously scary memories now feel distant. We can encourage this sense of distance in time by emphasizing the past in what we say - e.g. "that old out of date video way back then..."  or "that long ago you in that ancient old video..."

Ensuring that trigger words are excluded as we work on the rewind technique means that we now have a good 'test' to check that the trauma or phobia is now gone. At the end of the session, we can reintroduce direct references to 'spiders' or the 'car crash' into the conversation. At this point we should see clear indications that these words are no longer scary triggers and have become completely neutral words for the client.

Such is the power of the rewind technique that it is likely to work even where the practitioner doesn't specifically use these language tools, but I believe we owe it to phobics and trauma survivors to make their recovery as comfortable as possible, and protective language really helps with that.

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Mark Tyrrell
Creative Director