What is STIRA?
The Swiss (Traumatic) Incident Reduction Association is a non-profit organisation providing training and support to Facilitators who are using the Traumatic Incident Reduction technique (TIR). It was founded in 2014 by a group of Swiss TIR Facilitators out of the need for a support organization and to collect scientific evidence of the efficacy of the technique. Facilitator is the term used for the person trained in TIR working with another.
What is the TIR technique based on?
The discovery that current difficulties can be caused by past traumatic experiences is not a new one. With the recognition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a major difficulty for many former United States soldiers who had served in Vietnam, PTSD was given a higher profile. Once the phenomenon was clearly recognized, PTSD was easily identifiable among other populations, such as crime and rape victims and survivors of natural disasters. Although trauma survivors of all kinds with PTSD, anxiety and flashbacks present perhaps the most obvious example of living in the past, the phenomenon can easily be observed in the general population.
TIR was formally codified by Frank A. Gerbode, MD in the mid 1980s. It is not a therapy but a technique which can be taught to anyone who cares for others with or without formal psychological training. It is often used in a peer support context, though some progressive psychologists and counselors are employing TIR as well. It was influenced by the works of Carl Rogers and the development of Client-Centered Therapy (CCT) in the ’40s and ’50s. TIR is exclusively using a client-centered approach.
At Roger’s time the main therapies were based on the idea that the therapist’s role, like a doctor, is to offer expert advice to the patient. In contrast, Rogers proposed that people need not to rely on the judgements of others but instead turn inwards to themselves for the answers. In short, he believed that people are their own best experts. TIR is client-centered because it is working exclusively with the client’s interest. TIR is structured in its approach and does not leave room for the Facilitator evaluating for the client or to tell him what to think. At the other end of the spectrum spectrum most therapies and techniques practiced in the world today are non-client centered, meaning the therapist exhibits behavior that deliberately makes interpretations and diagnoses.
TIR does not include or leave room for such. The facilitator isn’t evaluating in any way or trying to “figure out” the client. This aspect is very appealing to many clients, because they get to keep control over the content and pace of the session. The sessions are intended to serve them, after all.
One of the problems encountered in getting TIR into widespread use by psychologists and counselors can be the duration of a TIR session. In a regular psychological practice clients are usually scheduled on a 50 minute a session basis. This allows the practitioner to see exactly one client per hour. It is predictable and practical. Unfortunately this approach has proven itself unworkable for use with TIR. TIR sessions can take anywhere from 1/2 hour to (rarely) 5 hours which makes scheduling unattractive in a classic setting. Interestingly, it is exactly this point, coupled with the fact that also non-academically trained personnel can be trained in the technique, makes it attractive in a peer support context. E.g. Policemen, Firefighters and volunteer organizations helping their fellow members rather than sending them out for treatment after they start to behave PTSD symptomatic.
How does it work?
When something happens that is physically or emotionally painful we either are able to face it fully, or we are in some way shutting it off, repressing it and blocking our awareness of it.
In the first case, the action of experiencing, which constitutes fully perceiving and understanding what has occurred, is allowed to complete and the incident becomes a moment of the past.
In the second case, the action of experiencing that incident is hindered and not completed. This is often because the incident just happened too fast or is too intense to be able to take it all in. The action of experiencing that incident is incomplete and the incident (along with any intention not to experience it, possibly disbelief and any other intentions and activities present during the incident) continues to exert negative effects. Without being able to fully perceive and understand what has occurred, the incident lingers around and keeps impressing itself on the present life without truly becoming a moment of the past. Symptomatic PTSD Flashbacks are exactly that.
The mechanism of blocking an incident could be described as a self-protective impulse. It somewhat works, but it keeps our attention in the past. This dulls our ability to perceive and to respond intelligently in the present. It also hinders our enjoyment of the current environment. Not examined, unresolved past events tie up our energy and intention and can stop us from moving on.
A TIR session provides a safe place and the means to fully examine that which could not be fully perceived and understood earlier.
A past incident loses its power at the point where it has been fully examined. In the process, we release our resistance and any painful emotion and/or negative thought patterns. This is the point where a TIR session is finished.
What kinds of events can be addressed with TIR?
The TIR include a technique for acute trauma which is referenced as “Basic TIR”. Any severe and shocking event can be addressed with this, including accidents, injuries, childhood traumas, violent crime, or any sort of loss, like the loss of a loved one. This is the key technique STIRA is currently emphasizing.
Worth mentioning is also that traumatic incidents must not necessarily be incidents that happen to oneself. One could just be the observer and be affected be the incident regardless, as is often the case with survivors, bystanders and rescue personnel.
Beyond that there are TIR techniques which can address unwanted persistent feelings, emotions, sensations, attitudes and pains, even without a memory of traumatic incidents connected, as well as those that facilitate post traumatic growth.