Exploring Trauma with Riggs Clinical Staff Member, E. Virginia Demos, EdD – Part 6



E. Virginia Demos, EdD, a member of the clinical staff at the Austen Riggs CenterIn this six-part series exploring trauma, we will present excerpts from a longer interview with E. Virginia Demos, EdD, a member of the clinical staff at the Austen Riggs Center and an authority on trauma. At the end of the series, we will make the interview, in its entirety, available in our Resource Center

Tell us about how the therapeutic community at Riggs plays a role in recovery from trauma? 

Patients have access to intensive, four-times a week psychotherapy, which enables them to go into the most painful experiences with a trusted other. While this kind of therapy is available as an outpatient, I think it really helps them to be at Riggs, because once they start to open up, then flashbacks can happen anytime, particularly at night. At the Inn they have nursing staff available to sit with them and keep them oriented in the present as they go through it. And people also learn to trust and rely on peers. The presence of supportive others is extraordinarily helpful to allow them to feel that they’re in a safe place, and no matter what happens, 24/7 someone is available to sit with them to manage something that may have started in therapy, but continues beyond it. We also provide groups, for example, a trauma group, or coping skills group where they have the opportunity to share their experiences with others and not feel so alone and different. It’s very hard to do this work outpatient, where the early phases of recovery can feel so terrifying and disorienting.  Once they get past this phase, some can return to outpatient work.

It gets worse before it gets better?

Exactly. It has to because they have split off so much of it. They have had to protect their psyche before they get to treatment. Then flashbacks can come anytime — sights, sounds, a touch, a conversation can trigger a reaction. It is a positive thing if they can recognize it as a flashback, even though it leads to the horror that they’ve been avoiding for so long. 

And if they’re in the process of remembering, you want that to happen. And you want them to be in a place where they can get help going through it. If they dissociate in a meeting, or start to tremble, they already feel different from everybody else, so it helps to be in a community where they know other people are going through this. They feel less like a pariah.

Thank you for reading this series exploring trauma. As promised, here is a link to the interview with Dr. Demos, in its entirety.


How do people suffering from trauma present themselves to a clinician —or how would a family spot it? - Part 1

Do some people experience horrible events, and come out unscathed? - Part 2

Can you say more about what’s it like on the inside for people with trauma? What do they feel like and think like? And how does that manifest?  - Part 3

It sounds like one of the hallmarks of trauma is its obscurity —its hidden-ness. How do you work with that as a clinician? - Part 4

What does it look like as people start to recover [from trauma]? - Part 5