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The Misunderstood Tragedy
Trauma is an often used but little understood word in our society. The condition it describes has relatively recent awareness, with the term “shell shock” commonly being used to describe trauma during World War 1 (1914-1918), and “war nerves” during World War 2 (1939-1945) to again describe war trauma. It was not until the 1950’s when advances in Psychology, Psychiatry, and medicine all started to reveal a picture of a condition that appeared both Neurochemical (Psychiatry), behavioural (Psychology), and nervous system derived (Medicine), that models for trauma first were seriously considered. Nazi war time studies on human concentration camp victims, whose scientists, doctors, and records all were largely assimilated into American medical and related communities (Ross: 2007), also assisted understanding of trauma states in human in this period.
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, Trauma disorders are affecting over 100 million people worldwide, and are growing in alarming numbers. If one includes people who have Anxiety and/or Depression, which is often just a symptom of underlying trauma, then there may be 1 in 5 people who are suffering some form of diagnosed or undiagnosed Trauma disorder. Trauma is over-represented in women as compared to men according to the United States National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website. This statistic is attributed to the fact that women are more likely to be abused, be victims of violence or assault of some form, either as children or as adults. The Blackdog Institute for Depression currently notes a causal link between Depression and Trauma disorders. Trauma has a causal link to Anxiety, Depression, and a number of other medical and mental conditions.
Trauma disorders are sometimes clinically divided into the effects that the trauma creates in a victim, and there are quite a few disorders that can be traced back to original trauma incidents. Briefly I consider three key types here. The first type is often associated with trauma or events and is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is typically triggered by a major life stressor event. According to the psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Version IV) (DSMIV), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is characterised as being present where a traumatic event is re-experienced persistently in at least one of the following ways:
- Recurrent and intrusive memory, including fantasising or re-enactment by young children of the event(s).
- Recurrent distressing dreams of the event(s).
- Sudden gestures, flashbacks or feelings as though the event(s) are happening again.
- Intense psychological distress at exposure to events that symbolise or “seems like – feels like” some part of the traumatic original event(s), or on anniversaries of the event(s).
The second type is known as General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which according to the DSM-IV has links to trauma, and typically is a background unspecific but enduring state and presence in the sufferer. The adult person typically experiences an unrealistic or excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation) about two or more life circumstances, for a period of 6 months or longer, during which one has been troubled by these concerns more days or not.
The third key type of disorder relates to dissociation or the process of “splitting off” from consciousness to avoid the pain and deny the event. DSM-IV defines several types of related disorders but one key type is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) which was formerly referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). This disorder is characterised by a person exhibiting more than one distinct personality, each having a particular pattern of self-perception, comprehension, behaviour, and way of relating to their environment (Callaghan:2007). If a person can be considered to have only one “seat of consciousness” in any moment, then from time to time, each autonomous secondary personality which is called an “alter”, can “jump into the seat” from time to time, and effectively run the person for a while, leaving them amnesic that this is occurring. This third type is often found from persons exposed to severe ongoing abuse, such as cult and religious mind control ritual abuse, notes Ross (2008).
According to bodymind researcher and M.D, Alexander Lowen, trauma is widely perceived as a brain and mental condition, with little regard given to the role of the body in trauma activation, then subsequent trauma re-activation later on. Authors such as Pat Ogden (2006) describe how a function of trauma is for the brain to disown the body and its sensory and motoric experiences after trauma occurs. Healing cannot be achieved without a person opening up to these blocked bodily pathways, whose re-integration is the key part of the trauma recovery process. Trauma is seen by trauma expert, Peter Levine, to manifest its key symptoms in both the body and the mind. An understanding of how the mind tried to deal with trauma, failed, and how the person then survived is important to understand at this point.
Recent Neuroscience studies of the brain point to the central role of the body in the creation of emotion and meaning (Siegel). According to these studies we as humans are constantly from the body always attempting to integrate the sensations, images, feelings, and non-verbal textures created by the body that involve the state of our muscles in our limbs and face, our internal organs, impulses to act, and the mechanics of movement itself. Indeed some interpretations of the understanding of how the brain works, point to evidence that not only does the brain live in the body, they are part of a social world of other brains. Our brain is purposefully designed to connect to other brains, to create images of others intentional states, affective expressions, and what in a larger sense is called social and emotional resonance, empathy, and emotional intelligence (Seigel:2003) A key point is that a traumatised person loses some of their own internal bodily information pathways mentioned above, plus the socialising brain connection function to others, leaving a person contracted, confused, and misunderstood by oneself and others. Stigmatisation by others, and a confused sense of self are defining characteristics of a traumatised individual notes Ogden (2006).
According to Neuroscientists such as Antonio Damasio (Ogden:2006), humans are designed to automatically respond to incoming sensory information from our environment with relatively stable action and behaviour patterns. One function of mind is to inhibit, organise, and modulate these automatic responses, which helps to make us reliable and stable people to ourselves and others, and this is important for us to preserve our relationships with others from where depend on meaning, company, affirmation, protection and connection (Ogden:2006). A key point is that traumatised individuals lose the predictability and stability of the behavioural and action responses post their trauma, and in doing so often end up becoming isolated, withdrawn, and victimised or judged by themselves and others (Ogden:2006).
Another key point is that post the trauma the person will either present a chaotic series of such behaviours and actions to the world, and/or will present a very rigid and fixed set of behaviours and action states to the world. The latter is an attempt to prevent the chaos showing up and causing a collapse of the whole system notes Lowen(1976) and a person with a fixed defence of operating to the world after trauma, internally feels the underlying chaos, and fears it is just a moment away from surfacing (Ogden:2006). This explains why trauma sufferers have so much anxiety much of the time, as they fear they cannot “hold it all together” for much longer, and feel scared of collapsing into embarrassing, debilitating, and helpless states of behaviour or action impulse without their being able to control such a collapse of their body and mind.
According to recent Neuroscience discoveries, our brain architecture sets us up for this problem based on our evolutionary design. Simply put we have a three layered brain or “Triune Brain”. The rear most and oldest part of the 3 layered brain is called the “Reptilian brain”, and has a primary role in managing the arousal machinery of the human condition. This brain then relates closely to the middle “limbic” brain which has a key function of emotional interpretation functions, and together they organise how us humans organise our responses to sensory stimulus, with all responses having a body involvement and movement component. (Siegel:2006).
It is these two brains that trauma is related, generated, and healed from, not the more recent frontal logical and rational brain lobes, which completes the three brain model. The three brain system importantly is now understood to “push” information forward from the body into the oldest Reptilian brain segment, then into the Limbic middle segment, and then forward to the Frontal rational brain. Neural pathways are dominantly laid down in this direction, and Seigel notes there are few Front brain neural connections feeding information the other way, that is backwards into the Limbic or Reptilian brains.
This is why “talk therapies” have been a relative failure in dealing with trauma, notes (Kolk:2006). Kolk notes it simply is not the role of a rational executive front brain to engage in any form of psychotherapy or counselling to “squelch sensations, control emotional arousal, and change fixed action patterns”. The Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, notes that “we use our minds not to discover facts but to hide them”(Demasio:2003). Kolk argues that “neither Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), nor Psychodynamic psychotherapy pay much attention to the experience and interpretation of physical sensations and pre-programmed physical action patterns…. and the best that verbal therapies can offer is to help people inhibit the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) physical actions that their emotions provoke. In short the best verbal therapies can help people with ‘anger management’ such as in counting to ten and taking deep breaths”. These researchers see the primary role of such therapies as being able to act as temporary opponents to the rising emotional and physical sensations that occur in humans, but in and of itself, such a “frontal” or “top down” approach will struggle to produce permanent healing of trauma states beyond coping strategies.
Kolk (in Ogden:2006), argues that from this understanding we must look to reprogramming the ANS physical responses, involving utilising the body as a key means of having the trauma sufferer develop awareness of their internal sensations and physical action patterns. Body-Mind psychotherapy is one of the Western therapeutic modalities that does not solely operate from a “talk therapy” model, but which instead works holistically with all 3 brain layers in the healing processes.
A key issue with trauma is that the traumatic past event(s) continue to influence how the affected person perceives themself, their world, and how they position themself in a distorted or contracted way with others around them. Unlike other situations in psychotherapy where the narrative of the clients past is reviewed and interpreted, the focus for trauma becomes present time physical embodied self awareness and self expression. The reason for this is that the past trauma is locked into the body and the brain, as reflected in body states, postures, actions, and sensory operations including the breath, movement, emotions and thoughts. The bodily outcome is in one sense the story of the trauma when observed from its sensory, motor skills, and behaviours. Therapy for trauma sufferers is present time focused to look at what sensory and action awareness exists, and how to re-orient the Body-Mind towards a re-integrated state of awareness, movement, impulse awareness, emotional containment, and thought and image reframing. This is the essence of assisting our 3 brain system from operating under stress via the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) in either chaotic collapse, or fear based rigidity.
The ANS is part of our evolutionary heritage, and a key reason how trauma forms in humans. The ANS has 2 principal states of being. The first is the relaxed and healthy dominant Parasympathetic state, which allows a person to function to optimal health, be relaxed, and with the assistance of the Hypothalamus/Pituitary Gland/ Adrenal gland (HPA Axis). This key set of glands and brain functions to release key mood hormones, proteins and chemicals into the body that then create the basis for the relaxed Parasympathetic bodymind states, and resulting feel good emotions .
The second state of the ANS is the Sympathetic state of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), and its activation occurs primarily from sensory and interpretive perceptions that previously we noted came from the 2 “back brains”. Once activated this leads to the person living from a “fight or flight” state of bodymind. In this state the body and mind the brain forces us to be in a primitive “survival” mode that is anxious, hyper vigilant, and is linked to the HPA Axis releasing “fight or flight” chemicals and hormones such as Cortisol, Adrenaline, and Norepinephrine to make us hyper-aroused, hyper-vigilant, and to limit front brain, rational activity, such as concentration, logical thinking etc. This Sympathetic state is supposed to be a short term “burst mode” way of being and cannot be sustained over any long period of time for a healthy outcome according to our body’s current state of evolutionary design.
The “fight or flight” state is designed to be resolved quickly, and not indefinitely sustained. This is the problem though for trauma sufferers as they get into this state of being but their environment or their perception of their safety in their environment, keeps them unresolved and in a “fight or flight” mode, and so they start to firstly manifest anxiety, and then for some they drop into depression. The mechanics of trauma occur within this natural state of being in Sympathetic Nervous System.
How trauma typically occurs is follows. The person via their senses comes into contact with an unsafe environment and/or object such as another person, and this activates their ANS into a Sympathetic state. The person tries to resolve the threat they face via the “fight or flight” state choices of “fight, flight or freeze”. The crucial factor in the formation of trauma is that the defences of “fight, flight, and freeze” simply did not work and the person was overcome with utter helplessness. The person can do nothing to influence the outcome of events. The ANS is overwhelmed by this failed response and the human condition then seems to dissolve at this point into a complete collapse and instinctual feeling of impending death (Van Der Hart:1989). The primary emotions we all come equipped with, such as fear, anger, disgust, grief, which communicate others to back off, protect us, or avoid us, do not produce the results they were designed for. The victim does not regain safety and decomposes and may fragment (Levine:1996). Some victims dissociate or “split off” from their bodies, others collapse into shock, others lose bodily control and function to varying degrees.
An analogy here is it is like your computer “locking up” and needing a reboot in order to function again. Trauma is like this. The operating systems of the Body-Mind, like the computer, get compromised, corrupted and a freeze or lockup ensures. Unfortunately humans do not reboot like computers do. What happens is that the Amygdala and Hippocampus parts of the middle or limbic brain seem to register the event in a damaged way into the sensory and interpretive reptilian and limbic brain systems (Ogden:2006). As a result, the person will not function the same after the trauma event.
Kolk (2006) notes that traumatised persons often lose the capacity to utilise their emotions as guides for effective action. The logic seems to be the Body-Mind saw in the trauma that the victims emotions did not produce the desired effect during the trauma, and now afterwards, when the same emotions get activated, a disconnection is triggered so the person no longer can verbally identify with the meaning of physical sensations and muscular activation, both from an awareness, a naming, and regulation perspective. This medical condition is called Alexithymia, and is a trauma related condition. Sufferers will be literally out of touch with their own embodied states of being, as well as their own needs as well as the needs of others. This is why trauma sufferers are often seen to be unable to gauge and modulate their own internal states, and either go into chaotic collapse or lash out in response to minor irritations that life presents us all.
At the same time the trauma process seems to create a fixed, rigid, almost mechanical response to dealing with subsequent types of environmental stimulus that mimic some aspect of the original trauma environment or abusing object. (Levine:1996). There is evidence that the particular rigid response continually retaken after an initial trauma event occurs, seems to be the response that was unsuccessfully being taken when the trauma occurred. The French psychiatrist and behaviourist Pierre Janet noted in the Victorian era that “traumatised patients are continuing the action, or rather the attempt at the action, which began when the trauma happened, and they exhaust themselves in these everlasting recommencements”. The traumatised individual reacts to minor triggers that their now hyper-aroused and hyper vigilant body-mind encounters and which leads to reactions and emotions that may be out of context, humiliating and shaming for the traumatised person, and others on the receiving end of their outburst. Over time these uncontrollable outbursts or collapses take their toll on the person, their family, work colleagues and friends.
In this process the “front brain” simply “does not show up”. Trauma and subsequent trauma replays are not under conscious control (Ogden:2006), and cognitive and rational emotional therapy or coaching techniques do not get initiated in these episodes. The person “regresses”, is not in present time, and lives from past replayed images and frozen emotional states, notes Reich (1970) . The legacy of trauma is that these body centric sensory and motoric patterns can be reactivated into the physical response of past terror, abandonment, helplessness, and abuse in fine detail. So we end up with a person who has at one level disowned their own understanding of their physical sensations and muscular actions (Alexithymia), and yet these same body-centric patterns can be triggered by the two rear brains in unison, which is an unconscious process, so taking a person into an out of control place. The bottom line becomes a dissociated person “living in their heads”, neglectful of their bodies, and yet possessed violently by these same bodies at a place and time of choosing not under the persons front rational brain, or any other conscious control.
It is not surprising that trauma sufferers then go on to suffer in the quality of their health, their relationships and lives in general. There is a causal link between trauma and Anxiety, as well as Depression. Alexander Lowen notes that Anxiety is a foundation state for the onset of Depression as it represents the key bodymind condition that is felt when one’s ANS is in the Sympathetic “fight or flight” mode. Studies show that traumatised persons will live in “fight or flight” mode pretty much constantly as they have become both hyper-aroused and hyper-vigilant which serves to keep switching their ANS into Sympathetic “fight or flight” mode.
Once a person is in a sustained “fight or flight” state, the brain via its Amygdala, starts to affect the Hypothalamus/Pituitary Gland/ Adrenal gland (HPA Axis). This key set of glands and brain functions to release key mood hormones, proteins and chemicals into the body, that then create the basis for the hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal symptoms described previously.
Two key substances here are Adrenaline and Cortisol, both of which medical studies have shown to be very high in sufferers of both Anxiety and Trauma. The “fight or flight” state of being causes the HPA axis to produce these chemicals to keep the traumatised person in their anxious ridden Sympathetic Nervous System state. Trauma researchers and Neuroscience studies by Dispenza and others show that as Anxiety and Depression sufferers stay in “fight or flight” mode for longer and longer, the HPA Axis starts to breakdown and exhibit duress and then illness. The HPA Axis in our body designed us to live in “fight or flight” mode for short periods of time, or in “burst” mode, not as a way of living. The HPA Axis glands produce key hormones such as Adrenaline and Cortisol in burst mode as required but when they are required to keep producing these hormones on a long term continuous basis it results in these glands suffering a form of burnout. The medical conditions of Adrenal Exhaustion or Burnout, Under or Over-active Thyroid, Pituitary Gland Fatigue, and some forms of migraine headaches are examples of this demand on the HPA Axis. These medical conditions are common in trauma sufferers.
Long term Anxiety and trauma sufferers often manifest these type of secondary illnesses as well as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Candida and Thrush issues, all due to this process, Traumatised people are often sick a lot of the time, or the first to “catch” what’s going around illness wise. The reason is that as part of the Sympathetic Nervous System state, the bodymind suppresses the immune system function in the body, note Neuroscience researchers such as Rita Carter, Joe Dispenza, Bruce Lipton, and others. Once you have long term Sympathetic Nervous System state of being, you then develop a long term suppressed immune system. From this place the opportunistic funguses (e.g. Thrush, Candida, H-Pylori) are able to grow in the gut and other sites to critical mass levels, while colds, flus, infections are likewise from a viral and bacterial viewpoint also able to gain footholds and produce illness.
The mind of a trauma sufferer is like the mind of an Anxiety sufferer in between the episodes of trauma recreation. In the mind of the sufferer the reported symptoms commonly include having a racing mind, thought loops where the thinking which often fear based, cannot be resolved, feeling tired due to loss of sleep, having a busy mind that tends to ruminate or constantly think of some past issue that remains unresolved, of being hyper vigilant to their environment, being unable to relax or concentrate in present time, adopting ritualistic obsessions or practices to distract themselves from their thinking, to name a few.
In the body there can be a felt sense of jumpiness, alertness, fear, tension in muscles, fatigue without sleepiness, raised heartbeat and blood pressure, impulses to move and be busy or some form of hyperactivity followed by a collapse into an alert tiredness again, trembling, twitching, shakes, shortness of breath, sweating or cold clammy hands, dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, abdominal symptoms, flushes, frequent urination, to name a few.
The key issue here is that Trauma is a bodymind issue that needs to be treated with an approach that pays attention to the present time experience and interpretation of physical sensations and the prior experience, pre-programmed physical action patterns. Wilhelm Reich noticed that in trauma of the human condition, the patient suffered a loss of their deep diaphragmatic breathing, with blocks forming that need body centric healing to dissolve (1970). Likewise Kolk (Ogden:2006) notices that physical movement and breath strategies are key to trauma recovery, Pat Ogden notes from her extensive clinical work that a body-centric model of healing is needed, which encompasses traditional psychotherapy, bodywork, breathwork, neuroscience, attachment theory and working with the sensimotor processes of the trauma sufferer (2006).
Trauma recovery work also understands that the trauma occurred in a person with respect to another person or object being the trauma inducing catalyst (Levine:1996). Work may be needed on boundary violations, abandonment, trust issues, loss of self-regulation, and formation of victim belief systems when working with a trauma client. This work occurs alongside the body centric working with past experiences that are embodied in present body structures, postures, physiological states, and action tendencies. Trauma work is regulated by creating a safe environment and container for trauma re-enactment via breathwork, gestures, triggering sensory awareness organs with significant symbols, movement, postures, emotions, visualisations and thoughts. The therapist role becomes one of facilitating self-awareness and self-regulation of senses and actions in the client, and to assist in the client orienting a new way through the world.
It is natural for the client to have trust issues, boundary issues, resistance to the work, abandonment issues, stages of giving up, and episodes of reliving some aspects of the trauma (Ogden:2006). The primary step firstly then must become helping the client to set physical boundaries and a physical sense of control, as well as exploring how to regulate the physiological arousal process so the client can contain the arising feelings during therapy. The client will be introduced to their own states of safety and pleasure based on past experience first, and these resources locked into them before moving into the more traumatic material. Pat Ogden (2006) explains this as “discovering the abandoned empowering active defences that were ineffective at the time of the trauma”.
Therapy involves a degree of cultivating mindfulness to the states and sensations of the body, and so creating an awareness that it is safe and natural to have such sensations and feelings, which are dynamic and which flow and change. Clients learn that frozenness is trauma and that flow is life and start to notice which they are in, and are taught how to shift into flow without recreating a trauma episode. This new awareness also promotes the necessary refocusing of the client from living in their heads, and instead into both living from an embodied place where they start to nurture and love their bodies again. It is common for traumatised people to have a poor body image (Lowen:1976) and this embodied self love become an important step in the healing process.
Once a person has control and is comfortable with their present moment states of body sensations and feelings, only then can they hope to move to the second stage of therapy where the same physical sensations and feelings are then encouraged to arise from the context of the original trauma. The body-mind now has a solid container to cope with the arising sensations and action impulses, and with the therapists help, actually seeing them through to final completion. If trauma was a frozen incomplete set of impulses and movements then healing is the flowing of those same ones to completion. In addition they are able to draw upon an emerging set of larger fully integrated options of response as they heal, and start to move away from the rigid states of response, or the collapse reactions, to the flexible and present moment, free will choices other people take for granted. The healing allows for a full set of fight or flight strategies to be available for any perceived threat that emerges in the future, while responding to old triggers and “seems like feels like” old trauma reminders without a frozen or chaotic or rigid bodymind position.
By comparison, mainstream approaches to trauma are often predominately treated via a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), in combination with the prescription of a range of relaxant, mood suppressant or mood affect drugs, often under the guidance of a Psychiatrist. This approach is often required to stabilise a person but only addresses the symptoms of the problem and does not address the “fight or flight” state of the person that creates this problem in the first place. Trauma researchers such as Pat Ogden (2006) note that CBT is also a “front brain” rational form of therapy which while helping with the mental distortions of trauma sufferers does not get into the Limbic or “emotional brain” of sufferers from where the ANS gets its impulses to switch in and out of “fight or flight” state of being.
Front brain rational therapies act as opponents to arising cognitive thoughts and emotional states from a trauma situation, but are only effective as long as the technique is applied. Sufferers are able to overcome irrational thoughts (e.g. that they are unsafe or dying), but the techniques do not heal or prevent either the lower order emotional or body-centric sensations from being aroused or arising or being healed. This occurs because traditional psychology tended to split the body and the mind and treat the mind as a wholly mental phenomena, whilst traditional psychotherapy used top-down rational brain interventions that saw the brain as a single unit where intervention was supposed to effect a cure at all levels (Ogden:2006). Trauma sufferers have found from these approaches useful with their management of hyper arousal techniques, and so offer some relief, but typically report needing to manage their symptoms and condition in an ongoing fashion as a result, often with medication.
Trauma states are also sometimes diagnosed within the large range of personality disorders of the DSM-IV, notes Ross (2007), and these typically then are subject to varying forms of medication that temper or manage the symptoms. These common mainstream medical approaches to Trauma restricts a person for enduring periods, or perhaps for life to taking various medications and doing front brain CBT style therapy, without often addressing the key underlying bodymind system that sets up the condition in the first place!!
The Energetics Institute has designed Trauma resolution programmes which follow the methodology outlined in this article. These have been adapted from the various bodymind traditions of Somatic Therapy, Yoga, Mindfulness, Meditation, CBT, Human Biology, Neuroscience, and the Bioenergetic understanding of the body and mind. The clinical effect has been to create a process of diagnosing and working with trauma sufferers to recover from the trauma issues outlined in this article. They involve a tailored range of exercises which address and intervene into the bodymind, resulting in the creation a the relaxed and beneficial Parasympathetic Autonomic Nervous system state, as well therapy session work to resource up a client, then safely start to address the trauma states as a second stage of the work.
Basically the Energetics Institute has as its philosophy a core approach to treating clients with a basis of both top-down and bottom-up approaches to the 3 levels of the human condition as represented and processed by the 3 levels or triune brain concept now expressed in Neuroscience. In therapy we notice how the client presents with these 3 levels of body-mind experience. Firstly we examine and observe the first and lowest somatic-bodily level of experience, analyse and make conscious the triggers of arousal that occur at this level. This represents the lower or Reptilian brain complex. We then notice the emotions of the client, or the numbness to emotional life, which are the second level, or emotional level of experience, which represents the Limbic brain complex. Thirdly we note the cognitive or mental thinking attitudes, beliefs and thoughts about what is happening or could happen, which represents the front-brain Neo-cortex level of experience. We do so from understanding that every person “processes” life from a “top-down” method where we primarily live from the rational-cognitive front brain, until the lowest level brain receives internal or external stimulus that has “meaning” in a way that forces a person to unconsciously slip into “fight-or-flight” mode which overrides front rational brain thinking and experiencing. Trauma sufferers experience this switch suddenly and in a chaotic fashion that causes disintegration of reality, interspersed with mental, emotional and bodily “flashbacks” or “replays” of old traumatic experience.
Any of the 3 levels of experience is an appropriate intervention point in therapy at which to work with a client. The therapist notices which of the 3 levels will most appropriately resource the integration of traumatic experience at any particular moment in therapy (Ogden:2006), and then apply specific techniques that facilitate the processing and resolution of traumatic experience at that particular level. In some cases it is enough to intervene at one level only and strengthen that level in that therapy session, but the goal over time is to intervene at a chosen level, and positively affect and work with the client at the other 2 levels at the same time. For instance changing a cognitive top level belief can soothe the emotions, and calm the bodily tensions, just as focusing and experiencing the emotion of grief or anger at the 2nd level, can relax the body, and create a realisation that changes beliefs. Also, by working on arousal symptoms in the body and with the breathing until the body settles, we prevent emotional arousal and which can create realisations and awareness of the impact of one’s body on one’s mind, and so shift beliefs and cognitions about oneself.
Ideally we work from the lowest or bodily leve l(level 1) from where all triggers take hold and cascade upward through the emotions (level 2) and into thinking and cognitive beliefs (level 3). This follows the pathways of the bodily and sensory connections into the lowest Reptilian brain, and from there “upwards” into meaning within the emotional Limbic brain complex, and then into the “top” level of conscious rational cognitive self. We work at all 3 levels or at one level, and use “top level” tools such as CBT and Counselling where needed, but never lose focus on the interdependency of the body with the mind.
We treat people who are already medicated and those who are not under medication. We work with the natural processes of the bodymind to create and sustain over time a Parasympathetic ANS in a trauma sufferer, as well as using present time facilitation of awareness of the sensory and action states that arise in the client, teaching toleration and containment of these states, and allowing new orientation of such states to new choices and defences. Secondary states of Anxiety and Depression which also often accompany trauma are also separately diagnosed and treated under our approach. See our separate articles on Anxiety and Depression on the Energetics Institute website.
The Energetics Institute also sees Trauma from a spiritual perspective. Our observation from seeing trauma clients is that for many, Trauma led them into frequent dissociation or “splitting off” states of mind. In this outcome many trauma clients when stable have much spiritual interest and can access “spirit” and subtle states of consciousness, possibly via the vehicle of dissociation episodes. For many of our trauma clients they walk the path of the mythic “wounded healer” archetype, their own wounds of trauma having bestowed gifts to them that can help others. Unfortunately while they are unhealed in themself they are not able to gainfully and consistently access these gifts, and their suffering is a form of the “Dark Night of the Soul”, that wounded people have to endure until they are prepared to truly change their lives.
The great myths of all societies express the traumatised person with spiritual insights as the “wounded healer” myth, where the person must go in search of their own healing. The Energetics Institute promotes the examination of the Self from a spiritual, reflective place as part and parcel of how we define ourselves as humans. We do not promote or prescribe any one religious dogma, tradition or thought. We simply see that a spiritual dimension in a person’s life provides meaning and a framework to one’s existence, and allows one to deepen oneself within and with the outside world. Trauma creates both a contraction and a shutting down, a giving up, from a place of hopelessness in this view.
Traumatised people are scared and terrified of life, and sometimes angry at life and their part in it. The inability to control and live safely in their own bodies is like a living hell and now tortures the sufferer and leaves them in a victim state. Once addressed from a bodymind perspective, this state lifts and the positivity and curiosity and hope of life starts to emerge again, as renewal takes roots in the person.
Contact the Energetics Institute for more information about Trauma, Depression, Anxiety, and other bodymind states of being that affect yourself or someone you love and interact with.
- THE BLACK DOG INSTITUTE: www.blackdoginstitute.org.au
- NATIONAL INSTUTE OF MENTAL HEALTH (NIMH): www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml
- WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION: www.who.int
Article and Book References
- Depression And The Body; Lowen Alexander, 1976, Penguin Books.
- The Noontime Demon – An Anatomy of Depression; Solomon Andrew,2002,Random House Publishing Group.
- The Feeling Good Handbook, Burns David, M.D., 1999, Plume Books
- Trauma and the Body – A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy; Ogden Pat etal,2006, W.W. Norton &Co Publishers.
- Mapping The Brain: Carter Rita;2003,Phoenix Books.
- The Quantum Brain; Satinover Jeffery,2001,John Wiley & Sons
- Evolve Your Brain – The Science of Changing your Mind; Dispenza Joe,2007, HCI Books.
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Version IV) (DSMIV), American Psychiatric Association, 2006.
- Myths to Live by, Campbell Joseph, 1990, Harper & Collins.