What is Trauma Therapy?
Trauma Therapy, also known as trauma-informed therapy, is therapy specially dedicated to helping people heal from the physiological, emotional, and mental residue of traumatic events. Trauma Therapy addresses specific, acute traumas related to single shocking episodes, as well as chronic traumatization, referred to as developmental trauma or childhood trauma.
Events are defined as traumatic to us when they represent a significant shock to the system, such that we are unable to shake off the state of intense nervous system arousal (felt as fear, anger, helplessness, and distress) even after the event is over. When intense nervous system arousal does not find a pathway to exit our bodies, it typically becomes cemented into our experience in a problematic way.
Nervous system arousal cementing in our bodies creates a lot of problems, as health consequences and psychological suffering. We then may sink further into our trauma-holes by trying to avoid triggers, rather than finding a way to disarm those triggers from activating us anymore.
Trauma Therapy works with body, mind, emotions, and behavioral patterning to help shift out old energies, resolve specific wounds, and help the traumatized individual to neutralize traumatic memories. Trauma Therapy frees a person from needing to push down traumatic memories, by helping release old biological responses in healthy, safe, gradual ways.
There are several kinds of trauma-informed therapies. What they have in common is understanding of the unique ways that trauma patterning lodges in the body, as well as what is required for the person to experience making herself feel safe again after a scary event.
Over time, working with a trauma-informed therapist allows a person to move on from their past.
The benefits of Trauma Therapy
The main goal of Trauma Therapy is to help someone learn to safely process the sensations and feelings that are in their body because of a past trauma. There are many other benefits to the work, as well, because trauma is what lies at the core of most of our suffering.
Trauma Therapy restores the ability to feel pleasant, safe sensations inside the body without fear of getting triggered. It helps people feel comfortable in their own skin, so they can relax without being suddenly overtaken by anxiety or dread.
Trauma Therapy also restores the ability to think about the events of one’s past in a more detached, neutral, and calm way, such that one does not need to fear being reminded of one’s past.
Trauma Therapy makes mindfulness more accessible. The beauties and benefits of meditative and soothing practices are sometimes only accessible to a person once a degree of safety in the body has been reestablished. Trauma Therapy makes it possible to be less afraid of one’s own thoughts and where they might drift, as thoughts are no longer weaponized with such intense or overwhelming emotion.
Trauma Therapy also has the benefit that it allows deep cognitive distortions, or core negative beliefs, to dissolve so that new beliefs can be formed. Many people find that manifestation exercises and affirmations don’t seem to really work for them, and when that is the case it is often because the trauma is holding tight to a deeper negative belief that the person is not willing to release until greater safety has been achieved. After a certain amount of Trauma Therapy work, it becomes possible to unlock and repattern at a deeper level, reprogramming one’s deep core beliefs with more effectiveness.
Since trauma is highly correlated with addiction, Trauma Therapy highly supports sobriety. Many people struggle with sobriety until they are able to address some of the underlying levels of chronic distress, emotional pain, and terror. It is highly advised to begin Trauma Therapy work fairly soon after getting sober, to assist with long-lasting sobriety. Villa Kali Ma offers several forms of Trauma Therapy as a part of our treatment program for this reason.
Finally, since trauma is so deeply connected to mental health, Trauma Therapy supportively works with mental health treatment, reducing depression, anxiety, and other struggles.
Trauma and the brain
Studies of the brain suggest that the brain undergoes changes in functioning when traumatization occurs.
The most widely accepted ways of differentiating functions of the brain distinguish between the hindbrain, midbrain, and forebrain. The hindbrain, as the name implies, is located towards the back of our heads and includes the brainstem and cerebellum. Also called the reptilian brain after the triune brain model, the hindbrain is the part of the brain closest to the place where the spine leads into the skull. The hindbrain is associated with the basic bodily functions that are necessary to be alive at the organismic level, such as breathing, regulating temperature, digesting, and processing signals connected to safety and survival.
The midbrain includes the limbic system, and is sometimes called our emotional or mammalian brain. This portion of the brain is associated with our instincts to nurture and care for others, our capacity to feel emotion, have empathy and bond with others.
The forebrain includes the neocortex, and is folded around the two other layers, making up the outermost layer. The forebrain, sometimes called our executive brain, is associated with abstract thought, logic, intellect, and language.
Trauma has been observed to affect structures within all three of these sections of our brains. Just above the hindbrain, where the midbrain begins, the thalamus works as a signal processor. It sits at the gateway between the end of the spine and the parts of brain that assign meaning to signals processed first by the thalamus. The signals the thalamus processes are external sense stimuli, such as noises and images.
Two almond-shaped parts of the brain called amygdalae, located within the limbic system, receive their signals from the thalamus, giving sense impressions received by the thalamus a first interpretation. The amygdalae work very swiftly and without our conscious awareness to determine whether the external stimuli being passed along by the thalamus represent a threat to our survival (or the survival of a loved one), or whether the stimuli are safe.
The hippocampus, a part of the brain linked with our ability to form memories, (also part of the limbic system) gets involved whenever the amygdala triggers an alarm to indicate that there is a threat contained in the external stimuli.
Stimuli get interpreted according to past experiences by way of the hippocampus, such that stimuli associated with past harm to the self are remembered and tagged as dangerous in part with help from the hippocampus.
If a threat has been determined by the amygdala and hippocampus, the hypothalamus now swiftly responds with a message transmitted back down the brain stem. This message conveys the sense of danger to the entire body, so that the body is triggered to be prepared for addressing the threat.
Preparation for dealing with a threat is mounted through several physiological changes affecting breathing, musculature, digestion, and blood chemistry. We “go red” (into a state of agitation, fear, and/or anger) to get ready to act to fend off attack or remove ourselves to safety. The autonomic nervous system places the body into fight, flight, or freeze mode. The purpose of fight, flight, and freeze states in the body are to respond to threats in a way that preserve life.
If an external stimuli passed from the thalamus is not flagged as worthy of triggering the body’s defenses – if it represents no threat to survival – then the signal will pass peacefully through the limbic system to be processed in the part of our brain that is capable of abstract thought and higher-order decision making. Note that we only have access to those reasonable, peaceful, creative higher states if we’re safe enough – if a stimuli is considered dangerous, the hind and midbrain trigger the body’s fight-flight without higher brain even being consulted.
People who are triggered into trauma-responses frequently, therefore, do not get the benefit of their own intelligence and creativity while they are in the triggered state. This has many negative impacts for the person trapped in this pattern, including decreased ability to control one’s impulses, a chronic, constant state of discomfort (feeling as though one’s life is under threat in one way or another), and a life without access to one’s own highest human potential!
Ignoring trauma can lead to substance abuse
There is a strong correlation between trauma and substance abuse. It is estimated that as many as two-thirds of people with substance addictions also experienced trauma in childhood. There is also a strong connection between those formally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction.
This happens for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is that the state of chronic physiological hyperarousal or hypoarousal feels very unpleasant, creates painful cognitions and distorted understanding of events taking place in real time.
Trauma also undermines the ability to make decisions from one’s higher self. In other words, people with trauma are trapped in the circuit that bounces from stimuli processing to trigger to danger-preparation in the body.
It is very unpleasant and hard on the body to always be ready to fight for one’s life, run away, or shut oneself down to avoid danger. Maintaining this state in the body requires the circulation of chemicals, hormones and neurotransmitters in the body that are toxic if they are not released (and they are not meant to be activated so frequently).
The symptoms of trauma, which may manifest as anxiety, agitation, irritability, hypersensitivity to sudden sounds and lights, sleep disorders, depression, low frustration tolerance, and a tendency towards social isolation, are often sought to be counterbalanced with the use of drugs and/or alcohol.
Drugs and alcohol may work in the short term to help a person avoid their experiences in the short term, but they do not work in the long term. Sooner or later, one develops tolerance to the substance such that it doesn’t achieve the desired effect any longer.
Also, due to the ways that drugs and alcohol interact with the nervous system, drugs and alcohol make trauma worse and degrade the person into worse states than they would be in without the use of substances.
To treat a dual diagnosis of trauma and substance addiction, treatment facilities address the cycle of addiction in lockstep with addressing underlying traumatization that set the person up for addiction in the first place. Triggers to use are often one and the same with triggers of re-experiencing one’s trauma energies.
It’s important to treat these two conditions together, because it will be difficult to make progress in the addiction treatment without addressing trauma, and it is impossible to address trauma while a person is still using, due to the ways that drugs and alcohol impair.
Trauma Therapy options
Villa Kali Ma offers Trauma Therapy as part of our holistic treatment program for women, so if you or your loved one come here for substance abuse treatment you can be assured of receiving trauma-informed treatment.
Trauma Therapy options are also available in the community. Some of the best Trauma Therapies are listed below.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a powerful type of therapy that has shown enormously positive results assisting people to re-map the ways that they respond to specific events of their past.
EMDR harnesses the benefits of bilateral stimulation by way of rapid eye movements or audio signals. Clients are guided to move their eyes back and forth following a visual stimulus such as a light that moves back and forth, or by listening to an audio signal in headsets, where the sound alternates from left to right ear. It is called bilateral stimulation because both halves of the brain are stimulated when signal processing bounces back and forth in a rhythmic way.
Clients are guided by a trained clinician to revisit disturbing events of their past in a safe way by talking about these events while assisting the brain to process through bilateral stimulation. The eventual effect is to remove the charge, thus disarming the event as a trigger, and allowing the experience to be processed and released out of the body once and for all.
The purpose of EMDR is to change the way memories of key traumatic events are stored in the brain, such that negative emotions associated with these traumas can be replaced with neutral or even positive associations.
CBT and DBT
Finally, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy have shown positive results when used to help women see the connections between certain states of being, thoughts, and behaviors. Working with thoughts helps bring in the higher mind and witnessing functions that are impaired during trauma. This ability to observe the connections between thoughts, feelings, and actions helps create pattern disruptions and restores the ability to choose. The presence of wise-mind helps break the chains of the trauma pattern.