Trauma is an emotional response to an event or experience that the individual perceives to be physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening. It results in lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning. In the United States, 61 percent of men and 51 percent of women report exposure to at least one lifetime traumatic event. And, 90 percent of clients in public behavioral health care settings have experienced trauma. Trauma therapy
Regardless of its source, trauma contains three common elements. Firstly, it was unexpected. Secondly, the person was unprepared. Thirdly, there was nothing the person could do to stop it from happening. Simply put, traumatic events are beyond a person’s control. It is not the event that determines whether something is traumatic to someone. Rather, it is the individual’s experience of the event and the meaning they attach to it.
My Approach To Trauma Therapy
First and foremost, an understanding of trauma biology guides my treatment philosophy. The physiological changes that occur lead to a state of heightened autonomic arousal. Although reactions do range in severity, even the most acute responses are natural reactions to dysregulation. Therefore, they are not signs of psychopathology or mental illness.
Far too often, well-intentioned therapists encourage clients to process traumatic memories too early in the treatment process. This approach can result in additional trauma to the client. Therefore, many clients fail to continue treatment. In contrast, my approach starts with teaching clients how to regulate their autonomic nervous system. The emphasis is on finding activities that are meaningful to the client, rather than using a “cookie cutter approach”. I utilize a tested treatment methodology designed to increase resiliency and foster a sense of empowerment. This is accomplished by focusing on the client’s strengths. EMDR and CBT are two types of therapy commonly used in the treatment of trauma.
I have completed specialized training in treating trauma, recognized by the International Association of Trauma Professionals (IATP), and am a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP).
The Triune Brain Model
The Triune Brain Model, introduced by physician and neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean, explains the brain in three parts:
– Reptilian (brainstem): This innermost part of the brain is responsible for survival instincts and autonomic body processes.
– Mammalian (limbic, midbrain): The midlevel of the brain, this part processes emotions and conveys sensory relays.
– Neommalian (cortex, forebrain): The most highly evolved part of the brain, this area outer controls cognitive processing, decision-making, learning, memory and inhibitory functions.
During a traumatic experience, the reptilian brain takes control, shifting the body into reactive mode. Shutting down all non-essential body and mind processes, the brainstem orchestrates survival mode. During this time the sympathetic nervous system increases stress hormones and prepares the body to fight, flee or freeze. In a normal situation, when the immediate threat ceases, the parasympathetic nervous system shifts the body into restorative mode. This process reduces stress hormones and allows the brain to shift back to the normal top-down structure of control.
However, for some people the shift from reactive to responsive mode never occurs. Instead, the reptilian brain, primed to threat, holds the survivor in a constant reactive state.
How Trauma Changes The Brain
According to scientific research, after trauma your brain goes through biological changes that it wouldn’t have experienced if there had been no trauma. The impact of these changes are especially exacerbated by three major brain function dysregulations:
– Overstimulated amygdala: An almond-shaped mass located deep in the brain, the amygdala is responsible for survival-related threat identification, plus tagging memories with emotion. After trauma the amygdala can get caught up in a highly alert and activated loop during which it looks for and perceives threat everywhere.
– Underactive hippocampus: An increase in the stress hormone glucocorticoid kills cells in the hippocampus, which renders it less effective in making synaptic connections necessary for memory consolidation. This interruption keeps both the body and mind stimulated in reactive mode as neither element receives the message that the threat has transformed into the past tense.
– Ineffective variability: The constant elevation of stress hormones interferes with the body’s ability to regulate itself. The sympathetic nervous system remains highly activated leading to fatigue of the body and many of its systems, most notably the adrenal.
Understanding Trauma’s Effects on the Brain, Body and Emotions
In this TEDx Talk, Janet Seahorn, discusses how traumatic events cause changes within the body.