Archive | July, 2018

Volcanoes and Traumas!

11 Jul

It was pretty obvious when the tsunami hit Indonesia in the early 2000s that this horrific natural disaster would have far-reaching consequences — to the people who lived in this region, to their homes and economic well-being, and to the holiday visitors all taken totally unaware.

Like a tsunami or a volcano which remains dormant for years or decades, a trauma can “go underground,” with the trauma victim “carrying on as normal.” But the fact is that those who have suffered a trauma are severely handicapped in their ability to cope with life. The time between a trauma and the after-effects presented in therapy can be as short as one hour or as long as decades. There are innumerable events which can precipitate a trauma in anyone’s life:

  • an accident in which there is a loss of any kind, including loss of life, injury, loss or damage to property
  • any kind of natural disaster, including but not limited to fire, flooding, earthquake, volcanic eruption, mudslides, tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes
  • a war zone, including any violence experienced in an inner city environment
  • rape or incest
  • bullying, whether that be in person or in social media
  • numerous traumatic incidents during childhood and adolescence, including physical fighting or verbal abuse in the family
  • lack of emotional connection to others in the family
  • alcoholism or other addiction
  • a hostile work environment

Any and all of these experiences are of course experienced through an individual’s unique person — his/her personality type, psyche and physical constitution. A hallmark of PTSD is that the person feels that his/her very being is threatened by extinction. We can easily see this in the horrific events of war or in natural disasters. Yet when a person enters a hostile work environment most days of the week and remains there from early morning to late afternoon, he may feel that his inner being is being extinguished. He may have the same symptoms of post-traumatic stress as a survivor of an enemy attack. Let’s look at some of the symptoms:

  • flashbacks to the traumatic scene
  • hypervigilance and/or a startle response
  • triggers that reactivate the traumatic experience
  • dreams in which the distressing events recur
  • overreacting to others’ verbalizations
  • sleep disturbance
  • negative or depressive emotional state
  • inability to remember aspects of the traumatic event(s)

Counselors who have special training to help clients with post-traumatic stress usually employ EMDR and/or Brain Spotting. EMDR is an earlier technology developed in the early 1990s by Francine Shapiro. The letters stand for Eye Movement Desensization and Reprocessing. The client talks about the scenario which initiated the trauma, and the therapist gathers information, including

  1. What is the worst part of the scenario?
  2. What is the image (mental picture) you have of the experience?
  3. What thoughts do you have about it?
  4. What beliefs do you have about yourself in this situation?
  5. Where in your body do you feel discomfort as we talk about the trauma?
  6. On a scale of 1 – 10, where 10 is the highest imaginable discomfort, where are you right now?

The therapist then initiates eye movements or hand movements to begin release of the trauma from the client’s nervous system. After a series of biolateral movements, the client and the therapist debrief, noting if anything in any of the above modalities has changed. The therapist will then make an intervention and proceed with another series of eye or hand movements.

In Brain Spotting, the therapist will normally make use of biolateral sound delivered through headphones hooked up to an IPod or an IPhone. This is a newer technology developed by David Grand, who initially was an EMDR practitioner. In helping athletes overcome “mental blocks” which prevented them from achieving a new level in their sport, he discovered that if he lingered over a specific eye position, there was a release of trauma from the area of the brain associated with the eye position. After much research and study, he developed a course to teach therapists how to deliver brain spotting, which focuses on the body and specifically the nervous system as the “container” of trauma. Brain Spotting is truly an amazing and effective tool to aid trauma sufferers.

 

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“What Was That?”

1 Jul

“I don’t get it! What are you trying to say?” Sometimes when we are with a person we know fairly well, we are dumb-founded by a comment they make or a reaction they exhibit. We wonder where it is coming from. This is especially true when your friend seems to overreact to an event or a comment. Her reaction seems totally out of proportion.

You may not have thought that this was stemming from the other person’s nervous system. It can well be a psychophysiological response! Thus it’s not just attitude!

In the universe Earth is sometimes pommeled by an asteroid or a comet. Or the dust from a nuclear explosion obscures the sun so that there is no growing season for quite a while. Traumatic events like these occur from time to time. Some of them are man-made, such as the recent nuclear reactor failing to cool in Japan. Others occur naturally, such as a tsunami that hit Indonesia several years ago.

In the microcosm of our individual lives events of parallel proportions sometimes occur. And people are able to recover equilibrium to a greater or lesser degree. For example, following the death of his wife, John was unable to go back to the home they had jointly shared. He chose instead to stay with one child, then another, and finally stayed with a sibling for a while. After short-term counseling he was able to go home, get connected with a grief group, and begin his former activities. If all continues to go in that direction, he will reestablish connections with friends and community and once again have a satisfying life.

However, many individuals have a much more difficult time developing resiliency after a loss or trauma. Grief and trauma tend to “piggyback” — that is, we do not handle¬†more grief and trauma better because we are used to it! Unless we actually do the hard work of grieving or of releasing our trauma, it will remain within our psyche and continue to influence how we think, how we feel, and how we interact with others.

Trauma, as opposed to “pure grief,” sets up the nervous system to overreact to everyday events. What is so insidious about trauma is that it becomes embedded in the nervous system and the person is no longer aware of the traumatic event or events. Most often this kind of trauma may refer to events that occurred decades ago! And trauma does not have to mean a single, unspeakable event. Thus trauma could be a one-time occurrence, for example, a molestation or rape by a previously well-loved and trusted individual OR it could be a series of horrific events. An example of this might be growing up in a home with drug and/or alcohol abuse in which there are nightly bouts between parents involving screaming and possible physical violence. This particular scenario might be likened to living in an inner city or even in a ghetto in Syria.

Often people come into therapy for their marriage, but what they are really dealing with is the trauma suffered by one or both spouses earlier in life. The nervous system has held onto this trauma, unbeknownst to them. But when a spouse makes a suggestion, all hell may break loose! The reaction may be totally out of proportion to the original comment, thus “What was that?” Partners are left dumb-founded and at a loss to understand what has happened in this interchange.¬† To an observer, it may become clear that there was a trigger, a word, a gesture, which set off the reactionary response.

Fortunately, for trauma survivors there is an excellent prognosis. There are several methods to help release the trauma from the nervous system. I will plan to tell you about two of them in my next blog!