‘Ginsberg (1974) immobilized chicks, and then allowed one group to recover spontaneously, and one to recover, but with prodding and stimuli to terminate the freeze. These groups, along with a third group of chicks that had not been immobilized, were then tested for resiliency to avoid death by drowning. The group that had not been allowed to complete recovery from immobility died first, the group not exposed to immobility next, and the group that had spontaneously recovered from the freeze survived the longest. Clearly the experience of and the spontaneous recovery from freezing carries survival benefits, whereas not being allowed to go through this recovery process seemed to reduce resiliency to life threat.’ Scaer (2001)

This is a very powerful illustration of the innate ability of animals to recover from trauma. Natural/spontaneous recovery actually enhanced the drowning survival rates over the control group. We can transcend trauma and be stronger afterwards, but only if we engage the bodies natural healing mechanisms. Not my favourite philosopher, but Friedrich Nietzsche was right: ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger.’

The worst option is to interfere and block the natural processes of the body – in this experiment poking and prodding the chicks out of immobility. The chicks were immobilized by holding, the inescapable threat inducing the freeze response.

My experience of TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) has shown me that shaking is a natural part of recovery from trauma. Even though it can appear that people are falling apart when shaking, it is better to fall apart briefly, rather than hold on to a life time of chronic tension.


Ginsberg, H. (1974). Controlled vs noncontrolled termination of the immobility response in domestic fowl (Gallus gallus): parallels with the learned helplessness phenomenon, as quoted in Seligman, M. (1992) Helplessness: On depression, development and death, New York:W.H. Freeman

Nietzsche quote from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/f/friedrichn101616.html#ixzz1lKDnjPOs

Scaer R.C., (2001) The Neurophysiology of Dissociation and Chronic Disease. Published in: Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, (2001), 26(1), 73-91

With thanks to Riccardo Cassiani Ingoni for the reference and image – I saw Riccardo talk about the chick experiment at a TRE Level 1 course in London.