In general, trauma can be defined as a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. Everyone processes a traumatic event differently through their own lived experiences.
The following is an extract from the Centre for Anxiety Disorders. To visit Click here
“ Because trauma reactions fall across a wide spectrum, psychologists have developed categories as a way to differentiate between types of trauma.
Complex trauma happens repetitively. It often results in direct harm to the individual. The effects of complex trauma are cumulative. The traumatic experience frequently transpires within a particular time frame or within a specific relationship, and often in a specific setting.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop after a person has been exposed to a terrifying event or has been through an ordeal in which intense physical harm occurred or was threatened. Sufferers of this PTSD have persistent and frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal.
Developmental Trauma Disorder
Developmental trauma disorder is a recent term in the study of psychology. This disorder forms during a child’s first three years of life. The result of abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment, developmental trauma interferes with the infant or child’s neurological, cognitive, and psychological development. It disrupts the victim’s ability to attach to an adult caregiver.
An adult who inflicts developmental trauma usually doesn’t do it intentionally – rather, it happens because they are not aware of the social and emotional needs of children.
Often, shock and denial are typical reactions to a traumatic event. Over time, these emotional responses may fade, but a survivor may also experience reactions long-term. These can include:
Persistent feelings of sadness and despair
Physical symptoms, such as nausea and headaches
Intense feelings of guilt, as if they are somehow responsible for the event
An altered sense of shame
Feelings of isolation and hopelessness “
Here are a couple of books that explore the treatment of trauma in therapy practice:
The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
An insightful exploration into the effects of trauma and the move towards healing.
The Body Remembers: the Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment by Babette Rothschild
Rothschild’s book “…brings together the understanding of how the mind and body, process, record, and remember traumatic events with practice strategies to help both body and mind.” Mary Beth Williams, PH.D. LCSW, CTS
“Trauma is a feeling of not having any resources. I remind them of what resources they have and then create additional ones so that they can feel more in control of their lives.” Babette Rothschild
The American website: National Eating Disorders Associagtion (NEDA) provides useful online brochures about the warning signs which may include the following:
Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, dieting and body image
Feelings of anxiety, loneliness and depressive moods.
Along with information about various other eating disorders Click Here
Anger is a signal that something isn’t right. You are compelled to take action to correct the wrong. How you manage your anger has important consequenes for your health and welfare. Your blood pressure is raised and stress hormones kick in. This is when the potential for violence is greatest.
Founder of the British Association of Anger Management, Mike Fisher’s book – Beating the Anger provides a plan of action for coping with rage and anger.
You might also find it helpful to look at the American website –HelpGuide.org which has resources and information on various mental health topics including Anger Management. To visit Click Here
NEUROSCIENCE AND THERAPY
If you are interested in finding out about the growing contribution of neuroscience in psychotherapy then you may find this abbreviated article of interest. It is by Barbara O’Connell, an Integrative Psychotherapist working in private practice in Cork, and holds a Practitioner Certificate in Affective Neuroscience and Attachment from Metanoia Institute in London.
“ Current research in neuroscience is relevant to promoting an understanding about what happens in the therapeutic setting. It provides concrete validity for what psychotherapists already know about the change that therapy fosters. Affective neuroscience supplies us with the explicit knowledge of how psychological and emotional change influences the architectural structure of the brain. Further it supports the view that the therapeutic relationship can offer positive re-parenting and reparative experiences. Neuroscience aids the understanding of how the quality and nature of our early experiences become encoded within the neural infrastructure of the brain and how its architecture determines the shape of all of our emotional experiences and relationship patterns thereafter.
The importance of the first three years of life particularly is given primacy by neuroscience. This is when neural networks shape and organise behaviours, emotions, thoughts and sensations which set the blueprint for relating for the remainder of an individual’s life. Having a grasp of why we are unable to engage in random actions because our behaviours are guided by patterns established through previous early learnings to which we automatically return, equips us with sharper tools for client work as well as encouraging more understanding, empathy and patience for both our own and our clients’ struggles with painful, repetitive relationship patterns. It is clear that neural pathways are laid down so early in the developing brain that they are difficult to modify. However, owing to neuroscience we now know that modification is in fact not just possible but probable given optimum conditions.
The brain continually changes in response to environmental challenges and because of this the neural architecture of the brain comes to embody the environment that shapes it. Enriched environments which encourage growth and change include the kinds of challenging educational and experiential opportunities that encourage us to learn new skills and expand our knowledge. It is in such an enriched environment that there is neuroplasticity. Neural plasticity refers to the ability of neurons to change the way they are shaped and relate to one another as the brain adapts to the environment through time. Psychotherapy is one such enriched environment which supports social and emotional development, neural integration and processing complexity by fostering learning, awareness and an opportunity to engage in new ways of being.
As a consequence of this early implicit learning, many of our most important socio-emotional learning experiences are organised and controlled by reflexes, behaviours and emotions outside of our awareness. The early interpersonal environment is imprinted in the human brain by shaping the infant’s neural networks and establishing the biochemical structures dedicated to memory, emotion, safety and survival. Later these structures and processes come to serve the infrastructure for social and intellectual skills, affect regulation and the sense of self.
It is now assumed that when psychotherapy results in symptom reduction or experiential change, the brain has in some way been altered. Therapeutic change then can and does alter neural pathways and result in neuroplasticity of the brain. Through the therapeutic process this involves understanding old patterns and updating them internally firstly and then in our relating with others.
It is the right hemisphere of the brain that is understood to be dominant in psychotherapy. While the empathic therapist is consciously, explicitly attending to the client s/he is also listening and interacting at the level of the implicit beneath conscious levels of awareness. According to Schore (2011), most impact and change happens in the right hemisphere implicit communication domain because pre-verbal experience, which is primarily right hemisphere based, makes up the core of the developing self. Therapy then is seen from this perspective as a right hemisphere to right hemisphere. Our ability to attach and successfully navigate the world depends on our ability to regulate our impulses and emotions and effectively attune across sensory modes. The infant requires emotionally stimulating communication to support this process. The ability to tolerate and regulate affect creates the necessary conditions for the brain’s continued growth throughout life.
Affective neuroscience offers clear explanations for understanding the emotional and biological effects of trauma, particularly dissociative and memory processes, regarding trauma which has occurred prior to the development of the complex left-hemispheric cortical structures. It explains well how the limbic and autonomic nervous systems exclude trauma and traumatic affects in the service of survival. Understanding both the hyper and hypo arousal systems and dissociation and how we can work with them as they present in the therapy room has contributed greatly to our understanding of the process of psychotherapy and how it can effect great change. Some clients worry that they are unable to explain exactly what has happened to them because their memory of their traumas are often incomplete or fragmented or completely absent. They fear that they will not heal as a consequence. Affective neuroscience explains how a lot of our experiences which remain unlanguaged and unremembered can be integrated across hemispheres. By explaining these processes to our clients they are better able to understand their own affects and how to better regulate them when they begin to intrude in their lives.
Understanding the limbic system and the amygdala gives insight into and a better understanding of how inaccessible the left brain is when the right brain is involved in and flooded by the freeze response. I find it useful to be able to explain this process to my clients because their survival response often frightens and unnerves them and keeps them in an anxious, hyperaroused state. Understanding what happens brings ease and lessens the natural anxiety which comes with traumatic affects from past events infiltrating the present. Managing these affects then becomes more achievable and clients are also then able to introduce their own ways of coping with and understanding these affects as well as utilising the therapist in a co-regulatory capacity.
Whilst neuroscience is deep in theory and biology it provides an excellent basis and support for integrative therapeutic work. It has contributed a scientific language to explain the process which satisfies those in the medical professions particularly, who have for years questioned the value of psychotherapy. It makes the world of psychotherapy more concrete and explicit and validates what Gestalt and Body psychotherapies have known for years: psychotherapy works and consistent, positive relational experiences heal. That they alter the physical structure of the brain through growth of neural pathways is a bonus for us as therapists who already believe in the transformative power of therapy. “