Thoughts and Observations
Trauma and therapy
"Trauma is an affliction of the powerless."
A brief introduction to Trauma Therapy. Traumatic events occur far more often than perhaps recognised and probably affect just as many women, men and children as those that suffer in war or catastrophic disaster; equally such experiences are very personal and can often be difficult to share.
The symptoms of trauma are the result of a biological hard-drive common to all humans, indeed to all animals, you may have heard of Fight, Flight or Freeze? This is our automatic built-in reaction to any event that, in the case of Fight or Flight, gives us an immediate explosion of energy to save ourselves from any threat to life or limb. This inbuilt survival mechanism can be a life saver; if a speeding car or a drunken raging somebody with a knife comes towards you, it makes perfect sense to protect yourself as quickly as possible without having to think “now, what shall I do?” Someone trained in martial arts may have different automatic reactions to someone who has not but regardless, most of us wouldn’t hang about. However, what happens when we are faced with some nameless horror that cannot be escaped or fought, that we have no preparation for? Then we may freeze; helpless in the face of overwhelming fear, we can become rigid, unable to move, think or feel. Sometimes referred to as being like “a rabbit caught in the headlights”, this is an automatic psycho-physical reaction outside of our cognitive control. A complete sensory overload.
However, we are far more complex than rabbits; we have brains that are about 135 times larger with more neurons than there are stars in the universe operating at about 450 mph with sensory and nervous systems that are constantly relaying information back and forth around the whole body. And most of that information processing happens without our even being aware of it. Yet sometimes our senses can pick up information which triggers something perhaps older, something perhaps forgotten or locked away because it hurts too much to remember. For instance, perhaps the trigger is no longer a speeding car but an old Ford Escort driving past or perhaps just the smell of alcohol on somebody’s breath that causes those same frightened or angry feelings. Such triggers can cause severe anxiety or depression and even a desperate need to end the apparent cause of our suffering – and this is where Trauma Therapy can help.
Safety is fundamental in Trauma Therapy; it doesn’t help anyone to be re-traumatised by trying to face memories which have been locked away for a purpose. The path to recovery has to be taken cautiously, everyone is unique and how they have dealt with past trauma will be different. Initially, and throughout therapy, CBT and Mindfulness form a key role in helping people to understand what is happening to them and to control and manage the difficulties they are suffering from in the short term. Understanding how Stress and Trauma affect Mind, Brain and Body is not difficult and is an important part of therapy for both Clients and Therapists. Mindfulness also brings with it awareness of how your body reacts to triggers and how you can learn to recognise and manage those physical feelings better so that they no longer overwhelm the system.
EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing – is the often the next most useful step. EMDR was developed by Francine Shapiro and is acknowledged by most leading authorities as one of the most effective approaches in helping relieve the symptoms of trauma. (World Health Organisation, NHS & others) It is believed that EMDR works on a psycho-neurological level and is similar to how Rapid Eye Movements (REMs) during dreams help the brain to sift and sort information from past and present. Our brains are constantly comparing new sensory information with old stuff, checking for inconsistences, for information that doesn’t fit with what is known or comfortable. Reoccurring dreams and nightmares, for example, are often about events or situations that have been caught in a logjam of frightening information that won’t clear. EMDR has helped clear many such nightmares as well as the original traumatic memories that may have continued to disturb and distress Mind, Brain and Body for sometimes many years after the causative event/s.
The following is a list of possible symptoms and difficulties suffered by survivors of traumatic events; some can be caused by other mental, physical, pharmaceutical or psychosocial difficulties. Constant stress at work and home can often create some of the problems below and can even echo the symptoms of serious trauma. As such, your GP should always be your first port of call if you suffer from any of these without understanding their cause, and probably even if you do. However, suffering several or more, even mild or moderate ones, can often indicate the effects of Major or Minor Trauma somewhere in the past.