What is the Therapeutic Spiral Model to treat PTSD?

By Kate Hudgins, Ph.D., TEP

The Therapeutic Spiral Model – or TSM as most of its practitioners call it today – is an innovative and inspirational method to use psychodrama safely for people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other problems of living. 

The Therapeutic Spiral Model is also a method of enhancing post-traumatic growth in every person who experiences its power.

In today’s world of daily living, we cannot escape that fact that trauma is everywhere and fear can escalate unchecked.  The Therapeutic Spiral Model provides a path to living a fully spontaneous and creative life today – in this moment.

For those interested in evidence-based models, this model has been the subject of research since 1992.

As people are becoming more aware of psychodrama, EMDR, and other experiential methods to heal trauma and addiction, interest is growing in TSM and the clinical map of the traumatized person’s internal roles.

A new interest in the seminal action method of psychodrama has been renewed due to recent advances in the neurobiology of trauma and attachment theories.  Research shows childhood and adult traumas affect not only the psychological ability to cope with life, but it also causes brain changes that can be reversed.  So, if bad things happen to people and cause brain changes, then the theory of experiential change is that good experiences will produce good brain changes. 

Thus, the Therapeutic Spiral Model was developed to provide safe life-altering experiences for people seeking to stop the symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression, dissociation, and addiction throughout patterns of their family legacies. 

The Therapeutic Spiral Model was created from 1992 to 1995 by a group of American psychologists, social workers and counselors who were also board-certified trainers and practitioners of psychodrama, sociometry and group psychotherapy.  As psychodramatists, we had all learned that spontaneity and creativity was the curative agent of change, and believed that whole heartedly as humanistic practitioners.

This small group of 16 clinicians spent three years testing the clinical modifications that we determined needed to be made to classical psychodrama to prevent re-traumatization as we saw in our practices. 

We tested these modifications during residential retreats at my Psychodrama Theatre of Protection in Black Earth, Wis., from 1992 to 2000, where we were accompanied by the teachings of a Mohawk teacher Tahnahga Yako, to develop the model in the fullest sense of its spiritual impact.  We offered private practice groups for men and women who were newly diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, dissociative disorders, addictions, and eating disorders.  Much data was collected and published about the Therapeutic Spiral Model in 2000 in Experiential Treatment for PTSD: The Therapeutic Spiral Model.

The development of our model of internal change using clinically modified psychodrama coincided with the emergence of PTSD as a mental health issue that needed new treatment options in the United States, as we saw in our practices every day.  Seeing the power of psychodrama both to heal and to cause harm, we dedicated ourselves to making psychodrama safe for the most vulnerable people, those who had PTSD or other life-interrupting mental health problems. 

Now the latest researchers, including Bessel Van der Kolk on the neurobiology of trauma and Louis Cozolino on the neuroscience of attachment, are showing that all forms of experiential change are the treatment of choice for developmental trauma and current PTSD. 

Even before, the early studies in 1996 showed that psychodrama and other experiential methods of change can risk re-traumatizing people by overwhelming feelings. I, along with other clinicians, saw that the classical psychodrama of that time was not clinically sound.  Psychodrama had formed both out of innovative mental health treatment with psychotic patients and out of the influence of expressive theater and had yet to construct a solid clinical base until Therapeutic Spiral Model identified the internal role atom of people who have experienced trauma. 

Thus, the clinical map of the internal roles of the trauma survivor (which we called TSIRA) grew out of a need to prevent harm and provide the best use of action methods for healing trauma and addiction.  The Therapeutic Spiral Model embraces the richness of classical psychodrama’s belief that only the spontaneous shall survive, as stated by Dr. J.L. Moreno – the originator of psychodrama. It establishes a step-by-step clinical guide how to get to this creative state of living life each and every day. 

About the author

Kate Hudgins, Ph.D., TEP, is internationally acclaimed for the Therapeutic spiral Model, an innovative model that addresses and heals trauma safely and effectively using experiential methods including psychodrama, strength-building rituals and the newest discoveries in neuroscience. She is the co-editor with Francesca Toscani of the recent book Healing World Trauma with the Therapeutic Spiral Model: Psychodramatic Stories from the Frontlines. For more information, see www.drkatehudgins.com.

Dr Kate is a Board Certified Trainer, Educator, and Practitioner of Psychodrama, Sociometry, and Group Psychotherapy and has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.