Mind-Body Counselling and Psychotherapy

Mind-Body Counselling and Psychotherapy

Using a variety of theories and approaches, I help my clients access their own (often hidden) resources to promote healing and transformation in their journey towards wholeness, authenticity, genuine positive relationships, and a deepening connection to self, nature, spirit, and community.

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Treatment for Trauma

Jennifer Scott, RCC, RSW, BC-DMT

  • Introduction to Mind-Body treatment for trauma.
  • What is trauma?
  • What causes emotional or psychological trauma?
  • How do we heal from trauma?
  • Common responses to trauma.
  • Helpful coping stategies.

It is no longer necessary to battle the often debilitating symptoms of trauma alone. We know so much more than we did just 20 years ago. Although there is no "quick fix" when dealing with trauma, there is definitely hope for recovery. Many people experience an amazing gift through the trauma recovery process - an increased capacity for change, growth, and connection. Many clients report that in the end, they are "better human beings" and their lives are deeply enhanced and empowered.

Following the Vietnam War, many soldiers returned to the USA severely traumatized. This sparked intensive research into how the brain and body respond to traumatic events. The research results have changed dramatically how we view trauma and how we treat it. Knowledge of the Triune Brain, for example, has taught us that different parts of the brain respond differently to trauma, and that by limiting treatment to only talking and emotional expression we are limiting the traumatized person's inner capacity to heal. In order to efficiently and effectively treat trauma, we need to integrate thoughts/cognitions, emotions, and body responses. This is nothing short of a revolutionary change in how counselling proceeds and has resulted in Mind/Body Counselling as a major treatment of choice for trauma. This work has been developed primarily in the USA and is relatively new in Canada, but is quickly gaining acceptance and interest from counsellors and psychologists all over the world. For more information following this article, please see articles in this website on Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, as well as the links page of this website to explore the various Mind-Body approaches now available in the treatment of trauma.

What is Trauma?

A broad definition of trauma is any experience which is perceived by an individual to be threatening to their sense of safety or survival. A wide range of events can cause trauma, including:

  • natural disasters (earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, etc.)
  • physical assault, including rape, incest, molestation, domestic abuse
  • accidents and bodily harm
  • developmental trauma, neglect
  • experiencing or witnessing horrific injury, carnage or fatalities (vicarious trauma)
  • falls and sports injuries
  • surgery, particularly emergency
  • serious illness, especially when accompanied by very high fever
  • birth trauma
  • cultural and trans-generational trauma
  • terrorism and racial trauma
  • hearing about violence to or sudden death of someone close

However, trauma does not necessarily involve a physical injury. Emotional trauma can result from such common occurrences as the breakup of a significant relationship, a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, the discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition, the loss of a loved one, or other similar situations.

What causes emotional or psychological trauma?

Not everyone who experiences a trauma will be "traumatized" with an emotional or psychological traumatic response. Interestingly, it is not the event itself that determines whether a person is traumatized or not, but rather the individual's experience of the event. Traumatisation can occur when a person is (Ogden, 2002):

  • overwhelmed by a situation perceived as threatening
  • feels helpless and out of control
  • is unable to process and assimilate the various reactions (cognitive, emotional, and physical) to the perceived trauma
  • experiences a failure to integrate ones experience of the event

Whether a person is traumatized or not also depends on a combination of factors including:

  • the person's history
  • the severity of the event
  • what the event "means" to the person
  • the persons coping skills, values, and beliefs
  • other major stressors in the person's life
  • the reaction and support from family, friends, and community.

How do we heal from trauma?

The answer to this question begins with an explanation of how our body responds to life-threatening events, which involves the Triune Brain. The brain consists of three main parts:

  1. brain stem or reptilian brain - our instinctive responses, body sensations, and impulses.
  2. limbic or mammalian brain - our memory, somatosensory and emotional experiences.
  3. neo-cortex or Homo Sapiens brain - our cognitions, thought and verbal expressions, conscious thought and self-awareness.

Our brains are programmed to respond to life-threatening events using the best possible means of survival. It is not our cognitive brain that generally makes that choice, but the limbic and brainstem parts of our brains. Traumatic events which have not been processed and integrated by the brain will create traumatic symptoms. Put simply, when we access and integrate experience from all three parts of our brains, healing from trauma becomes more efficient and effective than just talking about it. Using our cognitive conscious awareness to track our thoughts/meaning-making, emotions, body sensations, five sense perceptions, and movements while processing traumatic memory, we assimilate and integrate the experience in a way that was not able to happen during or immediately following the traumatic event. In essence, this is wholistic therapy -  treating the whole person, rather than just the emotions and cognitions. In this way, deep healing from the trauma can occur smoothly and effectively, because it is our limbic and brainstem parts that deal with the traumatic event initially, and thus where unresolved or un-integrated events "get stuck".

Common Responses to Trauma

Everyone responds differently to trauma, depending on the nature of the trauma (physical injury, emotional distress, etc.) as well as the individual's unique characteristics (see above). There is no right or wrong, but rather a range of normal responses and expected symptoms. Healing from trauma can take from a few weeks to years before the person is fully recovered. It is important to remember that each person's symptomatic response is different and their responses are normal responses to overwhelming and abnormal events. Some people recover well with support from family and friends, but if symptoms persist longer than a few weeks, professional counselling is advisable.

Physical reactions or symptoms associated with trauma response can include, but are not limited to physical aches and pains, changes in appetite or sleep, nightmares, mental spaciness or lightness, fatigue, changes in sexual activity, difficulty concentrating, increased sensitivity to light or sound, digestive upsets, and increased use of alcohol, drugs, or overeating.

Emotional reactions or symptoms associated with trauma response can include, but are not limited to hypervigilance (feeling on guard all the time), intrusive imagery or flashbacks, ruminating or worrying, hyperactivity, exaggerated emotional or startle responses, abrupt mood swings, decreased ability to cope with stress, panic attacks, anxiety, avoiding places or situations, attraction to danger, forgetfulness, decreased sense of being able to love, trust, or nurture others, fear of dying or going crazy, depression, feeling detached or isolated, and feelings of numbness, shame, helplessness, grief, anger, or hostility.

Helpful coping strategies:

Probably the most important thing you can do to help yourself to heal from trauma is to take action. Begin by asking for help and support from people you trust and/or an experienced counsellor.

Think about the kinds of things that normally would help you relax from extreme stress, such as talking with an empathic friend, listening to music, getting physical exercise, doing relaxation exercises, reading, hugging those you love, eating a healthy diet, humour, prayer and meditation, practice a Relaxation Response exercise regularly (see articles on sleep in this website for more information on the Relaxation Response).

Walking or engaging in nature can be a powerful source of healing to reduce symptoms of stress and trauma. Although not enough research has been done on this, my own personal experience and the reports of clients can attest to the healing power of nature.

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