The 5 R’s of Healing Trauma

One of the things we have come to understand today, is that trauma is and should be treated very differently than most therapeutic environments provide. It is traditional to offer a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which relies on the thinking part of the brain. What we know today is that trauma is not stored in the brain in the same way as other things. People with trauma are often unable to cognitively talk through and process things in the same way others might. In fact, talk therapy can sometimes further traumatize those who already have significant trauma. Instead of only focusing on talk therapy, we need to get into the limbic system and work through things experientially. This works to override our traumatic experiences by introducing more safe and successful experiences. Our trauma doesn’t go away, but enough positive experiences and interactions on top of the trauma response, can override it. Talk therapy alone cannot accomplish this. This is where the 5 R’s come into play.

What are the 5 R’s of Healing Trauma

The 5 R’s as described by Dr. Bruce Perry are Rhythmic, Repetitive, Relational, Rewarding, and Relevant. They describe the kinds of experiences needed in order to heal trauma, and how we can help facilitate that.

Teen Girls Dancing Together on Stage


Rhythm serves to regulate an individual with trauma. It can move someone from a super-high anxious state of mind to a more calm one. Anything rhythmic, including walking, dancing, singing, playing the drums, etc., are ways to calm the part of the brain that can’t be accessed through regular talk therapy. This can be utilized when we are having a trauma response and can also be used throughout the day. Rhythm helps us to reprogram the brain.


Repetition is the idea that this experience is, and will continuously be safe for the individual. One good experience does not overlay traumatic ones. Consistent, repetitive, good experiences allow individuals with trauma to recognize that they are in a safe place to begin healing.This is helpful for us to know and remind ourselves and clients. One good experience matters, but it’s not going to make a difference we can see or feel. It is still working though, and the more experiences we lay on top of the old trauma response, the more this will start to show in a way that is noticeable. 


Rewarding is simple. In order to replace traumatic experiences, we have to have ones that are rewarding and pleasurable. Rewarding experiences again, help an individual with trauma feel safe and comfortable. Creating moments where individuals can overcome a challenge creates a sense of accomplishment and confidence. These pleasurable experiences over time help combat the traumatic ones.


Relational speaks to creating safety and trust. It is incredible how strong, trusting relationships and a safe environment can help individuals with trauma progress. In an unsafe environment, individuals with trauma cannot even begin to break down the walls they have put up to understand their trauma.


Trauma and the brain

Relevant is the criteria of the experience that it must make sense for the individual cognitively. Adults with trauma and kids with trauma will need two different kinds of treatment, as they are on two different cognitive levels. Any kind of therapeutic experiences provided to treat trauma need to be relevant and developmentally-matched to the individual.The 5 R’s can be tailored for the individuals specific wants, needs and past trauma. 


The goal at Havenwood Academy is to use the 5 R’s to create positive experiences in their life. We want to create nurturing interactions to build trust over time. These nurturing interactions, when guided by the 5 R’s, will help stabilize and regulate the young women’s brains to feel safe. Only then can more traditional therapies even begin to really make an impact, as the brain is able to start processing more easily. The 5 R’s are woven into our program, therapy, school and daily life. Staff are empowered to utilize these when they see an opportunity. This creates a true healing and safe environment that will start to override years of trauma. If you believe your daughter may be a fit for our program, we encourage you to fill out our easy online assessment today and find out if Havenwood Academy is a good fit for your family.


Think Havenwood Might Be For You?

We encourage any visitors considering placing their daughter in treatment to fill out our online assessment as soon as possible. This two minute form will give our admissions team all the information needed to determine if your daughter is a good fit for our program.