What is TRE?

TRE stands for tension and trauma release exercises. It was developed by Dr David Bercelli, who spent a number of years working in countries that needed assistance in providing trauma relief, such as Israel, Palesine, Uganda, Lebanon, and others. During this time, he noticed that the human bodies of people in different countries responded to stress and trauma in the same way, despite any differences in culture, language, or geographical location. In all parts of the world, people were going into a protective ball shape when feeling themselves under threat. This action was mainly driven by the constriction of the psoas muscle.

David also noticed the natural tendency of children to shake during frightening events. He observed that his body wanted to do the same, however, he was suppressing this response in order not to appear scared to the children. When he questioned other adults about this, their response was the same.

“Letting go is not for the purpose of forgetting or forgiving the past, it is about releasing the energy of the past to give us back our lives in the present which is necessary to deliver us into a new future” [David Bercelli]

This insight led David to develop a set of exercises, which he called TRE. He found a way to put enough fatigue on certain muscles in the body in order to activate the natural tremoring mechanism. Much like many other mammals, this helps the human body to release any tension that is being held in the muscles. This physiological response can also lead to the release of emotions which are associated with the original stressful or traumatic events which led to the state of tension. Shaking can also help access those parts of our system that the cognitive mind cannot reach, thus enabling us to process trauma from our bodies in a non-cognitive way.

How Does TRE Work?

TRE helps to balance the nervous system. When we experience a real or perceived threat, our nervous systems respond by going into fight, flight or freeze. This means that the body automatically mobilises or immobilises itself in order to deal with the threat, with the accompanying physiological changes taking place. For a fight / flight response, these can include speeding up, such as heart rate and blood pressure going up, pupils dilating and hands and feet going cold due to blood being diverted to other parts of the body. For a freeze response, these can include breathing and heart rate slowing down, feeling cold, and a sense of disconnection from the body.

It is important to note that TRE is not the cause of these responses – they are defence mechanisms that are already present, and can manifesting during the session. Practitioners can help clients to deal with each of the above states by helping them to ground. This means guiding them to become more aware of what is happening inside or around them in the present moment. In the case of flooding, it may be necessary to help the client to slow down.

TRE and Polyvagal Theory

Stephen Porges, an American psychologist and neuroscientist, introduced his Polyvagal Theory in 1994. This theory links psychotherapy with the involuntary response of the autonomic nervous system, that is responsible for the fight / flight / freeze response. He argues that when we feel safe, we are able to engage socially. When we start to feel threatened, our body activates to meet the response by fighting or running away. If this is not possible, the body will utilise the last defence strategy of collapsing and ‘playing dead’.

This is relevant to TRE because, once the neurogenic tremors are activated the body can start to experience the original response to the stress or trauma. This means that clients’ systems can start to either speed up or shut down. As the body releases tension, emotions can also come up. It is important here that clients are taught how to self-regulate, and that the intensity of their experience does not become overwhelming. TRE providers are therefore trained to assess what state the clients’ nervous systems are in, and to step in to avoid or minimise any emotional flooding or dissociation taking place. Providers teach clients tools to self-regulate by working with breath, awareness, orienting, grounding and knowing when to take breaks or stop.

“All humans have an innate capacity to heal from traumatic experiences” [David Bercelli]

Who is TRE for and is it ‘safe’?

When done correctly, TRE is generally considered to be safe and suitable for most people who are suffering from, or wanting to prevent, anxiety, stress or trauma. Some contraindications include epilepsy, seizures, schizophrenia or being pregnant.

There are many different applications for TRE – it is not just for working with trauma, but for anxiety and physical pain, too, amongst others. For example, the exercises can help to improve body mobility and speed up injury healing. Likewise, its applications are manifold – TRE has been successfully used by army and emergency services personnel, parents and even children.

Further Information

I offer TRE sessions to individuals face to face and online in Teesside and London. Monthly online TRE group sessions are starting on Wednesday 5th June. 

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Group TRE sessions