Research Update – Phase 3: Trauma Recovery for East African Refugees in San Diego

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Have you ever taken a risk to venture out and do something – knowing it might not go the way you hope – and then had it turn out better than you ever imagined it could?

This Saturday will be Session #8 of Phase 3: Trauma Recovery for East African Refugees in San Diego. If you haven’t been following this 8-week research project – we are working with more than 40 women in San Diego – half in a Control Group, and half in a Treatment group who have been learning the method created by Dr. David Berceli, Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE).

Before we started there was no way to know if we could recruit enough women, well-suited to the research parameters, who would be willing to be part of the research, and show up for eight weeks in a row – on time.

In the Treatment group – would English fluency be sufficient to understand what we were teaching? How would they feel about learning the Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) — and would they be willing to do them at home on their own in between sessions – and keep track of how often and for how long they did it?

In the Control group – would they stay committed to coming even though they weren’t learning TRE?

And even if all that occurred – would they find it beneficial?

So here we are at week 8, as I said, witnessing the miraculous – groups still full, women showing up on time, enjoying being together, expressing tremendous gratitude for what we are doing.

In the Treatment group they have ALL been doing the exercises at home, even more often than we asked them to, keeping records for us and reporting amazing benefits. Women who could never sleep much are consistently getting deep sleep. Joints too stiff to move much are now out pleasure walking, up and down hills, enjoying the recently gained flexibility. Significant muscular back pains are subsiding. And the terror that gripped some of the women when alone at night, fearing that attack will come yet one more time – has gone away. Some told stories of how they learned to not breathe – always ready to fight if they had to — now – they are breathing.

By week 6, the Treatment group women grew emphatic that they were not going to be ready to stop on week 8. They wanted it to continue once a month.

Honestly – they broke my heart that week. I heard how much they felt they were benefitting — but they needed more. So – I worked hard and fast that week as there are a lot of people involved in this project — lots of details and etc. — and extending the group to go longer meant I needed consent from all parties, plus luck on the center calendars, and staff that was willing to continue and be available all on the same dates. It seemed like a real long shot – but within seven days – all components of the extended plan were in place – phew!

We needed to balance the women’s request for “more” with the reality of our extremely small capacity, research considerations, and staying on track to create something more long-term and sustainable in their community. Yet, even after weighing all of that, it was clear that they really did need more and amazingly, we had arranged for it to continue.

The revised plan is that both groups are going to continue in the research project for three more months, switching to once a month sessions instead of weekly. At the end of that time, the Treatment group will be encouraged to continue as a self-organized group making use of the TRE DVD to lead them through the exercises. At that point, (mid-February) we will be ready to start teaching TRE to the women who have been patiently waiting in the Control group.

For the long-term, we have been identifying women who will participate in gaining TRE certification. We will be offering the entry level certification training May 1-3 in San Diego and so far already have a definitive commitment from a young Somali assistant who is extremely eager to learn how to do this for her own community. We hope to include one or two more in that training and begin the process of supporting the refugee communities in being able to offer trauma recovery in their mother tongue, which will dramatically increase access for these women.

So far — the whole thing has just been an amazing privilege to participate in.

And — what about the men? Curious? We are working on it – we want to replicate the research with East African Refugee men next. We don’t have funding for that yet – but we’re working on it. In the meantime – donations of any size to this project are always greatly appreciated.

Will you help us with this?

Online fundraising for Phase 3: Trauma Recovery for East African Refugees in San Diego100% of your tax-deductible donation goes toward covering the costs of this project.

Stay tuned for more updates :)


Barbara English is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist with over 20 years of experience in the field. As a Certified Bioenergetic Therapist, she works from a mind-body perspective, and utilizes relational somatic methods as part of the process toward healing and a sense of well-being. Much of her training has focused on Early Development, Infant Mental Health, and healing after abuse or trauma. She is the co-founder and Executive Director of Living Ubuntu, a 2009 Carl Wilkens Fellow, and a certified TRE practitioner.

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