What do we know about trauma? Lots. We know that what were once considered intractable symptoms aren’t intractable. We know that what was considered inevitable suffering isn’t inevitable…..We know that what were once considered permanent characteristics/personality disorders are neither characterological nor permanent. (Integrative Trauma Treatment website)
Neuroscientists, traumatologists attachment researchers and clinical researchers have made it clear that that brain plasticity is ongoing and probably limitless. Their combined knowledge has led to models of treatment that incorporate somatic awareness along with psychodynamic principles. Effective treatment of trauma must contain all levels of experience: sensation, imagination, movement, and emotions, as well as our thoughts and conclusions.
I therefore integrate many modalities of treatment into my practice. Two of them are described below.
According to Peter Levine:
“The trauma response is a specific defensive bodily reaction that has become trapped. People initially mobilize this response in order to protect themselves from a source of perceived threat. However they then use it to ‘protect’ themselves against feeling the totality of their horror, helplessness or pain. In the long range these defenses keep people frozen and stuck in the past, cut-off from the here and now. Trapped in the (incomplete) defensive trauma response, the shame, defeat and humiliation associated with the original even replays itself over and over again in the body. At the same time it is through ‘the living, knowing body’ that trauma can be accessed and healed’.”
Telltale Signs of Trauma:
•Panic and Anxiety
•Chronic pain or disease syndromes
•Trouble paying attention
•Sense of disconnection
Trauma is in the nervous system, not the event, and it is not necessarily reserved for those who have had extreme life experiences. One can be just as affected by vicarious traumatization (learning of a traumatic event) as by directly experiencing a traumatizing event. What overwhelms one person’s nervous system may not affect another person at all. Traumatic events include falls, car accidents, electrocution, fevers, poisoning, minor medical procedures, surgery, strangulation, suffocation, drowning, witnessing or experiencing violence, war trauma, natural disasters, sexual violation, torture, childbirth, abandonment, early deprivation or neglect, loss of a loved one, and financial loss.
It can take only a single brief overwhelming event to throw a normally functioning person into an abyss of physical and emotional suffering.
“Trauma is a fact of life...but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence.” - Peter A. Levine, PhD
While many schools of psychotherapy are effective at treating trauma patients, their effectiveness increases enormously when combined with Somatic Experiencing. Somatic Experiencing is a naturalistic approach that addresses the embodiment of trauma. Our physical bodies are the foundation of our health and wellbeing. When a traumatic experience is trapped within the nervous system, it needs to be discharged at the physical, emotional and mental levels.
Social circumstances and rational thinking may inhibit the natural “Fight or Flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system.
SE allows a person to safely experience the intense survival energies, ameliorated by the body’s “felt senses,” so that it can gradually be discharged. 2.
By working with the awareness of sensations within the body, SE can prevent a person from re-traumatization when narrating and thereby re-living a traumatic event, and from the spurious generation of “false memories”.
SE develops a person’s capacity to self-regulate and thereby regain the ability to process difficult or negative experiences through the body’s natural, inherent mechanisms. Effective self-regulation decreases the use of negative coping skills such as alcohol, nicotine, drugs, gambling and other compulsive and addictive behaviors.
Somatic Experiencing can help to:
•Eliminate addictions and compulsive behaviors •Improve sleep, digestion and concentration
•Decrease frequency and intensity of nightmares and flashbacks
•Decrease anxiety, angry outbursts and depression
•Ease physical pain and discomfort associated with the traumatic event
•Decrease muscle tension
•Increase vitality and release energy back into the system
•Improve sense of connection to others
•Decrease Isolation and/or detachment
•Improve sense of belonging
•Increase sense of feeling alive and “real”
•Increase capacity to feel confident and capable
•Reignite joy, intimacy and passion with your partner
•Deepen the sense of connection to the spiritual world
•Discover and implement the most vital use of your creativity
•Develop skills to resolve stress and anxiety on your own
•Rewire your fixed mentality about money and success to finally achieve them
EMDR, originally Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, has evolved into a sophisticated body of approaches to bilateral stimulation in almost any form (tapping alternate sides of the body, eye movements, following a light back and forth, etc.) which address the traumatic memories that can be frozen in our body/minds. The bilateral stimulation during the memory (what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc.) of a traumatic event apparently helps the brain to process the event so that while it is remembered it becomes less upsetting. I use EMDR as an adjunct to either psychodynamic or somatic psychotherapy.