Situations that occur which alter one's perception of safety in the world can be one way of defining trauma. Car accidents, physical injury and illness which affect one's functioning or threaten one's life, chronic physical debilitation, significant loss, physical, sexual and emotional abuse. These are all examples of trauma.
Trauma comes in many shapes and sizes, from the atrocities of war to betrayals by a loved one. Whether trauma has a big "T" or a little "t", if it is experienced by someone as disruptive to one's ability to function and engage in life as before the traumatic experience, it is traumatic to that individual. Consequently, how a person experiences and processes an event is, in large part, how trauma is defined.
There has been a lot of research on trauma, the effects of trauma on an individual and the treatment for trauma. One thing is clear. Brain chemistry is altered and talk therapy is not enough. Ask someone who has tried to talk themselves out of the debilitating symptoms of hyperarousal, hypervigilance, flashbacks or dissociative experiences. Not only does talk therapy not help, it can sometimes make things worse. Talking about a traumatic experience can trigger all of those horrible feelings all over again.
Recovery from physical, sexual and emotional abuse is not easy. The scars from such debilitating events are deep and long-lasting. Self esteem, trust and the ability to engage fully in relationships is often compromised. Old wounds can be triggered in current situations leaving both the person with the abusive past and their partner frustrated. The ability to regulate closeness and distance in emotionally intimate relationships and sustain a healthy stability can be challenging. Shame, anxiety and depression may be more prevalent.
Having worked with many individuals with abusive histories, healing is a dance between gently evoking the past while creating safety in the present. Cognitive and body-centered approaches are both needed for optimal results. Regaining trust, overcoming shame and emerging more grounded and whole is the goal.
In recent decades, a number of new approaches to trauma treatment have been developed. In my practice, I have witnessed numerous people benefit profoundly from these body-centered approaches. I use both EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and Brainspotting for trauma treatment with positive results.
These approaches combine minimal exposure to the traumatic event (in the form of evoking memories briefly). However, this is paired with protocols, which include body-centered mindfulness, and some form of bilateral activation, such as music or other sound, as well as eye movements or eye gaze positions. Together these protocols help to reprocess and de-escalate the traumatic material.
Additionally, I use The Emotional Freedom Technique and hypnosis when appropriate to further reduce symptoms and promote healing.
Clients experience a diminishing of triggered emotional reactions and a lessoning of overall symptoms. Teaching clients tools to regulate and de-escalate their own emotions in the future is likewise a part of the work. I offer Body-Centered Mindfulness approaches such as Mindfulness Meditation techniques, as well as Chi Kung, guided imagery and relaxation exercises that empower clients to continue their own healing.
AMY WINTERS, LCSW
PSYCHOTHERAPY FOR ADULTS