Healing Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress

The experience of trauma can come from any event which stresses the nervous system or drains our emotional (psychological) resources. Being “traumatized” often refers to the symptoms a person might experience after the event. These can include:

  • anxiety and dysphoria (uneasiness, depression, restlessness)
  • emotionally-based problems (such as irritability and detachment from relationships)
  • intrusive re-experiencing (unwanted memories and reminders, “flashbacks”)
  • avoidance of the unwanted memories and reminders
  • hyperarousal (jumpiness, easy to startle)

Individuals experiencing a life-threatening (or perceived to be life-threatening) event sometimes experience post traumatic stress. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress include:

  • hypervigilance
  • flashbacks (reliving)
  • dissociation

Falling into the anxiety disorder category, post-traumatic stress is considered to be a psychological reaction to experiencing a life-threatening event. The traumatic event usually involves actual death or a sense of impending death/serious injury to one’s self or others.

Traumatic events leave the mind and body in shock. In the aftermath of the experience, we start to make sense of what happened and we begin to process our emotions and reactions. Individuals with post-traumatic stress remain in psychological shock. In order to move on from the experience, we need to look at the experience, and face those memories and emotions. As the famous poet Robert Frost said, “The only way out, is through it”. However, the way in which we look at it needs to be gentle and moderated. Contemplating the entirety of an upsetting situation will only leave us raw and emotionally flooded. We need to look at it in bits are pieces, while taking care to resource ourselves.

Click here to read more about post-traumatic stress and complex post-traumatic stress on my website.

I choose to believe that post-traumatic stress is not a life sentence. I believe that by working with the thwarted energy in the nervous system and creating regulation, we can process the traumatic material and start creating healing. The therapeutic approach I am speaking of is Mind-Body Attunement Therapy (MBAT). Developed by psychologist Kevin Miller, MBAT is based on the self-regulation therapy of research and therapist Peter Levine.

Some great books by Peter Levine include:

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, The innate Capacity to Transform Over-whelming Expereinces (1997), by Peter Levine and Ann Frederick

In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness (2010), by Peter Levine and Gabor Mate

Trauma-Proofing your Kids: A Parent’s Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy, and Resilience (2008), by Peter Levine and Maggie Kline

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About Mind-Body Attunement Therapy

Mind-body attunement therapy (MBAT) is rooted in the science of neurobiology. This fundamental underpinning sets MBAT apart from other therapies, which tend to be rooted in theory. It is an attachment and trauma focused therapy. Mind-body attunement therapy addresses the essential role played by the body, and the experience of emotions in the body. Peter Levine, a pioneer in the field of trauma theory and self-regulation therapies, explains that an incredible imprint is left in the nervous system when a person experiences a traumatic event. When faced with life-threatening danger, our human tendency is to fight, flee, or freeze. Our bodies generate an amazing amount of life-preserving energy. If our physiological response to that danger is somehow thwarted, such as when the danger is over-whelming and we freeze, this energy remains “stuck” in the nervous system. 

Mind-body attunement therapy thus is a body therapy, which works with the experience of emotion in the body (the “stuck” energy in the nervous system). There are basically two “jobs” that we want to accomplish in therapy to create a healthy nervous system. The first is to resolve unprocessed emotional memories that remain locked in the nervous system. These tend to get activated frequently (you likely know they are activated because you react with a high level of emotion which doesn’t seem to fit the situation you are currently in). So these unprocessed emotional memories tend to negatively impact our emotions, behaviours, and thoughts. The second “job” we want to accomplish is to teach your nervous system to return to calm quickly once it has been activated. Research shows that when we are exposed to ordinary everyday stressors, it takes approximately 2 to 3 minutes to return to a sense of calm. Some individuals take significantly longer than that, with activated responses lasting from several hours to several days. Using mind-body attunement therapy, the focus is on resolving unprocessed emotions and teaching the nervous system to calm quickly. Thus, MBAT assists individuals to work through over-whelming experiences without causing them to be re-traumatized.

“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence. Not only can trauma be healed, but with appropriate guidance and support, it can be transformative. Trauma has the potential to be one of the most significant forces for psychological, social, and spiritual awakening and evolution. How we handle trauma greatly influences the quality of our lives.”  — Peter Levine

Resources:
Levine, P. (1997). Waking the tiger: Healing trauma: The innate capacities to transform over-whelming experiences.

Miller, K. (2012). Mind-body attunement therapy: Clinical Strategies. Mind Body Attunement Training Centre.