What Is Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR) Therapy?

Around half of all women and 60 percent of all men will experience at least one incidence of trauma in their lifetime, the National Center for PTSD reports. Things like accidents, natural disasters, crime, sexual and physical assault, child abuse and neglect, combat, death of a loved one, and witnessing disturbing events can all be traumatic. People may face the trauma head on and be able to move past it rather quickly, or they may attempt to “block” the event and awareness of it. By not allowing oneself to go through the necessary steps to move successfully beyond a trauma, the incident is not fully experienced; therefore, it can continue to have negative ramifications in a person’s life.

How Did TIR Come to Be?

In the mid-1980s, Dr. Frank A. Gerbode of California developed Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR) therapy as a person-centered desensitization method for helping people to face traumatic events in their past that have a negative impact on their current lives and learn how to move forward positively. TIR is a nonjudgmental and non-confrontational method of easing stress from events that have caused physical and/or emotional pain.

What Are the Key Specifics of TIR?

Traumatic Incident Reduction therapy is a one-on-one therapeutic technique performed by trained professionals, called “facilitators,” in a highly structured manner. TIR is considered a rapid therapy form as it may not last as long as traditional methods. Sessions are typically 60-90 minutes in length and generally offered weekly. The number of needed sessions is determined by each individual and their specific needs and progress.

How Do TIR Sessions Work?

A TIR session will begin with an assessment step. This assessment will evaluate the specifics of what is to be managed during the session. The person receiving treatment will identify either a certain incident or a thematic item to be resolved. Thematic TIR will explore unwanted feelings and emotions that may be related to as-of-yet uncovered reasons or past events. A person may try to close off, or block, painful memories or experiences as a method of self-preservation and can therefore repress stressful events. These traumas lie below the surface and can cause a multitude of negative side effects. TIR can help to uncover these repressed traumas and guide people to work through them in a safe and controlled environment.

After the assessment, a TIR session will move on to the viewing step. During this step, a person will assess how particular events, or emotions, and aspects of their lives impact others. During the “viewing,” a person will try to look at their life as if from the outside (kind of like watching a movie) in order to objectively see how feelings and actions interact and how the trauma is related to them. Emotions and memories may be distorted, and a person may not be aware of how much, or in what way, previous incidents may be affecting how they feel and act currently. This viewing step can help to provide connections and revelations into the self and why a person may act and feel they way they do. Insights and self-reflection come directly from the person involved and not from the facilitator directly, who is there to act as a guide.

What Is the Purpose of TIR Sessions?

Individuals are taught how to recognize potential triggers for a negative emotional reaction and can then devise new ways for coping with and managing them during a session. The goal is to help a person to be able to talk about the traumatic event or theme rationally and calmly without stress and anxiety by the end of the session. A session is formally ended when there is an improved emotional state of the viewer (person undergoing TIR), and their attention is returned to the present. This is called the “endpoint” for that session. The Traumatic Incident Reduction Association (TIRA) reports that this fluid ending is one of the aspects that makes TIR so unique. At the end of a session, or at the endpoint, a new revelation or item for discussion and exploration may come to light that the person can then work on in the next session.

When all emotional “charges” are uncovered and managed, TIR sessions may move on to personal growth until a person is happy with symptom relief, and overall life satisfaction is improved. The National Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) reports that TIR is a brief therapy technique that works to permanently remove the negative emotional consequences of a past trauma.

What Are the Applications of TIR?

There are many applications for TIR therapy, not the least of which is to address emotional issues related to past traumas. As many as 3.5 percent of American adults struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, the National Institute on Mental Illness (NIMH) publishes. PTSD occurs when a person continues to relive a traumatic event and experiences stress and fear related to it weeks, months, or even years after the danger has passed.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports on studies indicating that TIR therapy has improved symptoms for the following mental health concerns:

  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Self-efficacy

TIR can work to improve negative thoughts and emotions; therefore, it can help to lower stress and anxiety, enhance a positive mindset, and increase pleasure. It can also help people to recognize their potential more fully and therefore become more self-efficient and have a greater expectancy of success.

TIR may also be helpful for the treatment of addiction, which is a brain disease that may often be rooted in emotional distress or stress. Stress increases a person’s vulnerability to addiction, the Annals for the New York Academy of Sciences reports. Traumatic events can also make it more likely that a person will abuse drugs and alcohol as a method of “numbing” the emotional pain.

What Is the Role of TIR Therapy in Addiction Treatment?

People who suffer from PTSD struggle with drug abuse and addiction at rates that are more than double those of the general population, the journal Clinical Psychology (New York) explains. Drug and alcohol abuse can also be a form of self-medication for unresolved symptoms of a mental disorder. SAMHSA publishes that nearly 8 million people in the United States suffer from both a mental disorder and addiction at the same time. When co-occurring disorders are present, TIR can help individuals to resolve some of the resulting emotional strain and therefore serve to aid in minimizing relapse.

During treatment for addiction, TIR therapy can help individuals to discover what event or emotions may be the root cause of their substance abuse. By identifying what made drug or alcohol abuse so enticing in the first place, people can learn how to improve these negative symptoms so they will no longer feel the need to abuse mind-altering substances or be tempted to relapse. Drugs and alcohol can serve as a method of keeping negative feelings and previous traumatic events buried temporarily, and TIR therapy can help to unblock these events so the person can learn effective tools for coping. People often experience revelations about themselves during TIR therapy sessions, which can help them to recognize how their thoughts and actions are connected and how to improve them to become more self-reliant and self-sufficient, as well as emotionally healthy, for improved life balance.

Can TIR Therapy Help with Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders are often complex. Medications, established therapy techniques such as narrative therapy within a personalized, comprehensive treatment plan, or the less conventional forms of therapy such as hypnosis, and holistic methods can all be beneficial parts of addiction treatment programs. TIR therapy is a useful tool for improving a person’s overall emotional state, for managing stress and dealing with relapse triggers, and for enhancing how an individual functions in everyday life, both during treatment and as part of aftercare.