Why the spiral?

By Kate Hudgins, Ph.D., TEP

Spirals are symbols of healing in all indigenous cultures from the beginning of time. 

They can be found on cave paintings in France and as petroglyphs, the carvings on rocks, in Australia. They are everywhere in nature. Quantum physics now teaches that there are invisible spirals of energy around us at any moment in time.

For TSM Psychodrama and the Therapeutic Spiral Model, the spiral has been the image of choice for three reasons.

First and foremost, we saw that people who called themselves “trauma survivors” in the early 1990s were mostly women. They were women who were suffering from eating disorders and histories of neglect and abuse in their early childhoods. 

They often described their day-to-day reality as though they were living in a constant tornado. They felt caught in a whirlwind with images, sensations, thoughts, and memories that were knocking them around without their control, no matter how many cognitive strategies they had to deal with flashbacks, body memories and compulsive behaviors.   

Asking these women to “calm down” or to rely on mindfulness or other meditative practices was like asking them to go from being charged up to giving up. 

We suggested the spiral as an image of transmuting energy from a tornado to a gently controlled and directed spiral, a therapeutic spiral, if you will.  It became an image that many survivors find useful as they learn to leave behind the pull of the past and live in the upward spiral of post-traumatic growth using the Therapeutic Spiral Model. 

The second reason the spiral was chosen as a symbol to represent TSM Psychodrama comes from trauma theory. 

We recognized that trauma disrupts people’s connection to themselves and others.  In the majority of cases, trauma is a direct result of neglect or abuse by humans to humans.  That is not to deny collective trauma that is caused my nature, such as earthquakes and tornados, but even then how people respond is often what determines the final impact of trauma in terms of human life, physical and psychological functioning.  There was clearly a need for a belief in something beyond oneself, or connections with other people if meaning was to be made out of life. 

Many people who came into our Surviving Spirits workshops in those early days – as well as today – were members of various 12-step programs. They brought a willingness to be open to the idea of personal and communal healing that encompasses a sense of spirituality. 

In TSM Psychodrama, that is called the autonomous healing center, which each of us carries within.  The image of the spiral seemed fitting to symbolize a sense of spirituality for people seeking to renew themselves from the inside out and with their friends and families.

Something bigger than one human, or even a group of humans, is needed to truly repair trauma.

The final reason was inspired by a structure known as the psychodramatic spiral from the 1980s. This structure described the best way to tell your story in action – from the periphery to the center. 

The late Elaine Eller Goldman, a well-known psychodramatist in the addictions field, taught the power of psychodrama to staff members working in inpatient treatment programs in Arizona. She wrote about the need to move slowly to reach core trauma stories safely and effectively in her book Psychodrama: Experience and Process.

That early structure fits the description of the three strands of the Therapeutic Spiral Model: safety, experiencing, and post-traumatic growth.

The first strand of TSM’s spiral provides the roles needed to build your sense of resilience in body, mind, heart, and spirit, so you can experience a range of spontaneity and creativity today, no matter what has happened in the past. 

The second strand is to deepen your experience of memories and worries from the past, in order to release them.  Only then can you live in the present and take your appropriate authority to create the life you want on a day-to-day basis. 

Finally, having faced old stories and created new endings, the third strand represents a life of post-traumatic growth that not only becomes possible but necessary.

About the author

Kate Hudgins, Ph.D., TEP, is the originator of the Therapeutic Spiral Model, which she and her collaborators modified from classical psychodrama to increase safety for survivors of trauma. She has taken this model to 30-plus countries in the past 35 years. Her most recent book is Healing World Trauma with the Therapeutic Spiral Model: Stories from the Frontlines, edited with Francesca Toscani. She is a board-certified Trainer, Educator, and Practitioner in Psychodrama, Sociometry and Group Psychotherapy with a Ph.D., in Clinical Psychology. Learn more about Kate and her international training certification on trauma treatment here.

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