Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Body: Both The Lock & Key For Healing From Trauma

If you are a human alive on this planet today, it is likely that you have experienced trauma of some sort, whether physical and/or emotional.  The word "trauma" just means any kind of threat to your sense of self, sense of safety, sense of feeling loved or being loving yourself or sense of physical/emotional/spiritual integrity.  In my experience as an integrative psychiatrist, the vast majority of disturbances people feel emotionally and physically can be linked to traumatic events or perceptions that have been "locked" in the body -- which interplay with one's genetic makeup to manifest problems.

The experience and healing of trauma is complex and unique for each person. Amidst this complexity I like looking for what is most simple, boiling down all the ingredients to find the common "soup".  More and more, that common "soup" seems to be the absolute importance of connecting with the body's energies and feelings -- letting the body, below the conscious mind, express and re-balance in order to begin to heal.  This cannot be done just through the cognitive mind.  Trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk, MD states, "Trauma is too overwhelming for you to know because the brain gets hijacked by the emotions associated with trauma."1  The animal-emotional parts of the brain that process trauma experiences -- the brainstem and limbic system -- cannot be "reasoned" with. One needs to learn to safely discharge the shock of difficult events that are stored in these primal parts of the brain and in the body via modalities that activate and regulate them.

As Peter Levine, PhD, the developer of Somatic Experiencing shares, "No one can heal effectively and efficiently from emotional, physical, or spiritual pain and suffering without involving the body at the center of their healing process."2  Often in trauma the body has become trapped -- LOCKED -- into a stress response of FREEZE without moving forward into the expressive mechanisms of FIGHT or FLEE which are both ways to complete the discharge of the stress from the body.  The body also, naturally, will discharge trauma after the threat has passed through involuntary physiological processes including shakes, tremors and heat release.  In the wild, animals do this automatically whereas humans and domesticated animals have this normal discharge process suppressed.  Re-activating what your body already knows to do -- this discharge of the stress lockdown -- is a KEY for releasing trauma from your body and living more deeply in the present moment.  If the discharge never occurs the "freeze mode" stays in the body and can lead to chronic issues with depression, anxiety, self-doubt, paranoia, pain, fatigue, lowered immunity, sleep problems and a myriad of other long-term physical and emotional issues that contribute to suffering.

Your body is unique to you, your experiences are unique to you and your healing path will be unique to you.  I highly recommend anyone explore how your body can be given "permission" to discharge its trauma/stress and restore itself to wellness and balance -- to discover what the keys are to your own bodily "lock-downs".  I encourage embarking on this journey of healing both on your own and with the help of trained practitioners.  The following are a few modalities that include the body's intelligence in the healing process; there are many others as well.  Perhaps one or more of these will be helpful to you in your journey:

  • Somatic Experiencing:  See  Somatic Experiencing is a gentle body awareness approach to trauma.  Read any of Peter Levine's wonderful books such as Waking The Tiger, In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness or Freedom From Pain.
  • Learn and practice David Berceli, PhD's Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises, which are self-controlled exercises to trigger neurogenic muscle tremors in the psoas muscles.  These muscles -- found deep in the pelvis -- contract in response to stress. They also have a natural discharge mechanism through tremors that humans have learned to block.  Dr. Berceli's work teaches you how to let your body complete this discharge resulting in release of deep tension that may have been held inside for years.  As Dr. Berceli has stated, evoking these tremors may feel "weird to the ego but it is natural to the body!"3  See his website:  His book, The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process also teaches the exercises.
  • Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT):  See  This is a remarkable therapy that can be self-administered and/or experienced with a practitioner that combines tapping of acupressure points with imaginal exposure.
  • Matrix Reimprinting:  See  This powerful therapy evolved from EFT and facilitates transformation of past negative memories that have been held as pictures or "holograms" in your body and subconscious.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR):  See  This wonderful therapy combines bilateral bodily stimulation with imaginal exposure.
  • WHEE (Wholistic Hybrid derived from EMDR and EFT):  See and  WHEE was developed by psychiatrist Daniel Benor, MD.  It is easy to learn and can be self-administered and/or experienced with a practitioner.  Read Dr. Benor's book, Seven Minutes To Natural Pain Release. 
  • Yoga: A collective term for any of a number of physical, mental and spiritual disciplines that can include body movements and postures, breath techniques, meditative techniques and life philosophies.  Yoga has been increasingly studied as a healing modality for trauma of all kinds.  There are a huge number of teachers and variations of yoga across the planet... I recommend trying out different types and teachers to see what resonates for you and your body.  Yoga practice, in my experience, also can trigger the neurogenic muscle tremors mentioned above that discharge stress from the body.
If there are any healing modalities that have helped you in restoring your body from trauma, I would love to hear from you!  

In this autumn season, nature is beautifully demonstrating how natural it is for bodily change and release to occur as the leaves change color and fall from the branches of trees.  May this inspire your own bodily healing from the storms of your life.
(photo by Marnie Burkman)

1: Notes from presentation, "The Frontiers of Trauma Treatment" by Bessel van der Kolk, MD; October 12, 2012 at Veterans, Trauma & Treatment conference, Omega Institute.
2: Quoted from book Freedom From Pain by Peter Levine, PhD & Maggie Phillips, PhD, 2012, pg xvi.
3: Notes from presentation, "Neurogenic Tremors: The Body's Natural Way To Heal From Stress, Tension & Trauma" by David Berceli, PhD; October 13, 2012 at Veterans, Trauma & Treatment conference, Omega Institute.

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Christine Eubanks said...

"If you are a human alive on this planet today, it is likely that you have experienced trauma of some sort, whether physical and/or emotional."

Yes, I do experience trauma and even depression but I do EFT to treat them.

Marnie Burkman, MD, ABIHM said...

Hi Christine, thanks for sharing! That is great that EFT has helped you.

Rosalie Free said...

My primary care physician referred me to your site. You have a lot of tools to offer your patients. I thought I'd share that I have benefited greatly from Constellations therapy in addressing my PTSD transmitted by family survivors of The Holocaust. Constellations is a process for reconciling with traumatized ancestors. In Ann Arbor people who are interested in the process may explore the website of Midwest Institute For Systemic Constellations.

Marnie Burkman, MD said...

Great suggestion, thank you Rosalie! Constellations is a wonderful and powerful therapy, I'm glad you shared it here.