Tackling trauma is not simply a case of thinking your way out of distress. Physiological stress and physical trauma respond best to a mind-body approach that integrates a range of treatment methods, such as a flexible approach to protective behaviours and exercises that are designed to improve specific awareness. PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) brings many symptoms and common recovery issues - where the most progress could potentially be made with an innovative new approach.
Looking at PTSD
PTSD & Complex- PTSD can have a devastating impact both physically and emotionally. It is the result of re-experiencing extremely threatening events from the past that now invade the present as if they are happening all over again.
Trauma can unconsciously trigger the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), (responsible for various unconscious bodily functions). This in turn then mobilises via the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) the discomfort of a “fight or flight” response or a “freeze/flop” response. When the more tolerable state is subsequently to engage the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which brings a sense of relaxation or “rest and digest”.
The triggering of the ANS is a response to a re-experiencing of the original trauma as if it were happening or about to happen again. It’s an unconsciously triggered response.
This intrusion of the traumatic past on everyday life can create great challenges when it comes to sleep and relaxation, as well as being able to feel things such as excitement or joy.
SNS vs PNS
People with PTSD or C-PTSD will often be prone to SNS or PNS activation.
- SNS - hyperarousal, which can emerge as rage, anxiety and heightened reactivity. Increased sensitivity to other people’s reactions, body language and facial movements and a feeling that they must be permanently on guard.
- PNS - hypo-arousal, which is more likely to feel like hopelessness, depression and despair. This can create a sense of emotional numbness and dissociative feelings of being disconnected from the body. Where PNS is dominant people may become frozen in risky situations or under- respond when it’s wise to take action for their own safety.
One of the biggest challenges for tackling trauma is the protective behaviours that may be the result of years of suffering. Patients may have been misunderstood or blamed in the past, they may feel overwhelmed or be using habitual somatic tension or verbal defences to protect them from their own shame and terror. These protective behaviours may feel like a life raft that is essential to survival and which talking therapy alone may not be able to shift. This is why a trauma-informed approach will take a somatic approach and work with the body to shift the negative charges of the unlocked trauma.
Integrating mind and body
Talking cures - such as trauma-informed psychotherapy - remain an essential part of the process of dealing with trauma. However, the most comprehensive approach also requires integration of the mind with the body. There are many working therapies that bring body work to the client.
Polyvagal theory, for example, can be integrated into psychotherapy, introducing the use of subtle changes in posture, breathing and movement to help create feelings of safety, connection and stabilisation. This can be particularly effective when it comes to dealing with dissociative states.
EFT, EMDR are also amongst the most effective approaches for working with trauma clients.
We are increasingly changing the way that we support those who are suffering from trauma responses such as PTSD and C-PTSD. An approach that integrates the mind and body can have a transformative impact on outcomes and recovery.
The Grove believes in the role of psychology to empower and drive resilience both for personal development and professional impact. We support individuals, practitioners and organisations. To find out more about The Grove’s initiatives in our Trauma Therapy courses, visit https://thegrovepractice.com/training/