If you ever played an instrument or a sport, you know that the body has a memory of its own. Similar to motor memory, our bodies have implicit memories that occur around traumatic events. Recent research into neuroscience and epigenetics suggest that our brains change after trauma and that these changes can be passed down through generations with modifications to gene expression. We are hard wired to respond to traumatic events in three ways. We reach out socially for support by crying for help, go into fight or flight or shut down and withdraw inward. Interestingly, these responses show differences in our brain when scanned. People suffering from trauma are either stuck in fight or flight or perpetually in a state of shut down.
Due to an increased understanding of what is occurring in the brain, we have an improved range of interventions that can help trauma survivors heal. According to Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., there are three ways to approach treatment: top down, medication or bottom up. Most of you will be familiar with the top down approach. This involves a familiar version of talk therapy where an individual with a therapist’s assistance processes the traumatic event and creates some kind of purpose or meaning out of it. Due to changes in the nervous system and brain, it can be difficult for survivors to respond with compassion to themselves or to stay in the present moment. Often, there is internalized a deep sense of shame. Medications may help calm an overactive nervous system yet there are many forms of therapy that you may not have considered that fall in the category of bottom up.
If you are currently struggling with trauma consult with a trusted professional and consider some of the following treatment options:
- Mindfulness is awareness in the present moment of what you are thinking, feeling and experiencing in the body. In order to recover, an individual must become self-aware. Learn how to breathe, stay in the present and be with themselves. To learn to tolerate the world of their own inner experience, their own emotions. Practicing mindfulness helps retrain the brain and once skills are developed to allow you to be present with yourself and better regulate your emotions you will be able to work on developing better relationships with others and attuning with them. Our brains are hard wired for connection. With an opportunity to connect safely and securely with other people, our brains and bodies become rewired for physiological self-regulation. Often exercises that involve synchrony with others like yoga, dance, or volleyball can assist in the recovery process.
- EMDR stands for Eye movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. The trauma survivor recalls the traumatic event while also participating in bilateral eye movements which is similar to what occurs naturally while dreaming. The individual is able to process in a new way the material without the need to talk about it. Often the individual who was “frozen in time” is now able to move forward without the interference of reoccurring memories or flashbacks. This type of therapy requires specialized training and a therapist who has been certified to practice this type of psychotherapy.
- Lifespan Integration is a newer type of therapy that is currently being researched yet has also shown to be a gentle method that assists the individual to process the information in a new, safe way that does not require talking about it. Through the use of imagery and a timeline, the client is able to provide that part of themselves with what they needed at the time of trauma. Then the client continues to view scenes from their life to the present. This practice proves to the client that time has passed and that their life is different now. This method is believed to help integrate the splintered implicit memories into the client’s co-constructed autobiographical narrative. This method also assists clients who have experienced neglect to integrate and connect within themselves to move from a disorganized to a more secure attachment. This allows the individual the ability to access more fully their social support network and dissipate toxic shame.
- Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that is used to train the brain to self-regulate. It is common for trauma survivors to have increased activity in the right temporal lobe resulting in hyper arousal and also a slowing in the brain waves in the frontal cortex used in executive functioning. These changes in the brain contribute to difficulties in regulating mood and a decreased focus and ability to accomplish tasks. Initially a client will have their brain mapped and then the technician or therapist will develop specialized training sessions to help train your brain to more optimal levels.
The awareness of trauma has grown as does the body of research supporting new interventions. Despite the new information that shows how trauma negatively impacts the brain, the good news is that humans are resilient and the brain is adaptable. Healing can come through a combination of techniques or interventions. There is hope for healing and some of the more amazing people throughout time have been survivors of trauma.