There are plenty of people – both health professionals and the people seeking help- who still believe that the way to heal trauma is to talk about it -in detail. Nothing could be more dangerous! Many people say they feel worse after such sessions- for days, weeks or years! Sadly, this approach puts some people off therapy for life.
Why is this so? Because talking about trauma- even thinking about or saying the word “trauma”- can activate us exactly like the original trauma. Science now confirms this. Our brain, nervous system and procedural body memories are activated exactly like the original situation. This can be every bit as distressing, or even more distressing than the original trauma.
So to heal trauma safely, we need to create some resources first, some “scaffolding” to allow the processing of trauma to be done without accidentally retraumatising the person seeking help. Pat Ogden suggests that we focus on resources that bring the person back into the Window of Tolerance (a calm and settled state). Peter Levine suggests further that we focus on working with the patient to find a strength or competency within the body or mind which makes it possible to avoid engaging in reactive responses. Peter calls this Pendulation.
For myself, I am developing a model called the 5Brain model where we connect to another calm, well regulated person and bring ourselves into the present moment to help settle our system. If another person is not available, we can establish a “calm and resourcing place” to go to mentally, which includes elements that settle and soothe. Since the type of trauma I work with is most often relationally based, it makes sense to include support and “scaffolding” from others.
At first, having a compassionate and attentive human presence may create grief or upset in the person seeking treatment, as they realise more fully how alone they have been up to this point. The aftermath of trauma can be a sense that we are “different” and do not belong, or are not valued. Knowing that there is at least one person on the planet who really “gets” us, in small slivers of experience, means that we can begin to relax. Healing therefore, is stimulated as a result of relationship- with others and ourselves- that helps compassionate self study .
I welcome your feedback on this blog.