Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. Please consult your doctor before starting any new treatment. This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through my link, they will compensate me a small fee. Your price is not affected.
I became intrigued with the idea that physical and emotional trauma had affected my physical health several years ago. So, I wrote about this topic in 2020: Trauma and Chronic Pain/Illness: Is There A Link?
In January 2022, I finished reading The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk. Bessel van der Kolk is a researcher and leading authority on healing trauma. His book is quite technical in explaining how trauma affects our bodies. It also can be quite triggering. So, I’ll summarize what happens when we experience trauma and what therapies are helpful in healing trauma.
How Our Brains Work
- Our experiences shape our brains from our earliest days.
- The right side of our brain is our “feeling brain.”
- The left side is our “rational brain.”
- It is physically impossible for the rational brain to talk the emotional brain out of its reactions.
- Researchers used functional MRI scans in research studies for trauma patients. These studies revealed that people who have experienced trauma had much more brain activity in the parts of the brain that deal with feelings, survival, and stress. Their rational brains were much quieter than the brains of people without a history of trauma.
- Researchers have found no genetic factors for mental illnesses.
- Life events affect our genes so that genetic predispositions to health problems can be passed to future generations.
- If these offspring have traumatic experiences, they are more likely to develop health problems.
- Repeated traumatic events affect how well our immune systems work. Auto-immune diseases, fibromyalgia, asthma, and chronic fatigue syndrome can result from trauma earlier in life.
What Happens When We Experience a Traumatic Event
- When a traumatic event happens, our sympathetic nervous system gets activated.
- The resulting adrenaline rush causes us to flee, fight, or freeze.
- If we can run away or fight, we will.
- If we’re stuck and unable to get away, our brains freeze.
- Our brain may take us somewhere else during the trauma. This is called dissociation.
- Memories of the traumatic event get stored haphazardly. These include sounds, smells, and sensations.
- We may get stuck in fight-flight-freeze mode. This means we keep living like the event is ongoing.
- A person without a strong support network is more likely to get stuck in the trauma.
- A person stuck in reliving the trauma loses their capacity to think and reason well. They are in survival mode.
What Helps People Heal From Trauma
“Paths To Recovery: Owning Yourself,”
- We need to become calm.
- Then we need to stay calm.
- Next, we need healthy relationships with people.
- Finally, we need to tell ourselves the truth and not keep secrets.
Step One: Calming Yourself
The following activities will help to calm your nervous system.
- Mindfulness: Pay attention to your body sensations.
- Movement: yoga, Tai Chi, Tae Quando, or dance are especially helpful.
- Rhythmic Activities: Drumming, chanting, choral singing, or breathing exercises.
As you calm down and notice your body sensations, you then need to give them a name. What are you feeling or noticing? Remind yourself that all sensations and emotions are fleeting. You won’t feel this way forever. Naming what you’re feeling helps make the feeling more manageable.
10 Healing Therapies
No matter which therapy we choose, we need to feel safe with a therapist or support person before attempting to explore our trauma. I have some tips for picking a therapist in this post. The following therapies are helpful in healing trauma.
4 Self-Help Therapies
- Befriend Yourself & Your Body: In a study of 9/11 survivors in New York City, many people got relief from acupressure, massage, yoga, &/or EMDR therapy to heal from their trauma. Survivors reported no benefit from talk therapy (cognitive-behavioral therapy or psychoanalysis).
2. Putting words to your trauma is very important. The essence of a traumatic event is that it’s so unthinkable and horrible that we have no words to talk about it. Finding words to describe your feelings and having a supportive person listen to you and validate your experience actually changes our brains for the better. Journaling about your feelings is also a powerful way to improve your physical and mental health.
3. Art, music, or dance therapy are also ways to befriend our bodies and help to heal trauma.
4. Mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness can help our mind “figure out what it needs to heal.” It also “lights up our thinking brain, helping to calm down our emotional brain.”
6 Therapies That Require Professional Help
5. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. EMDR therapy is very helpful for dealing with traumatic memories. You can learn more about it here: https://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/ I have found this therapy helpful. Studies have shown that EMDR is more effective than medications for depression.
6. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). “There is evidence that DBT can be useful in treating mood disorders, suicidal ideation, and for change in behavioral patterns such as self-harm and substance use.”
For more information, click here: https://dialecticalbehaviortherapy.com/
7. Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS). This therapy idea is based on our minds having different parts. It’s especially helpful for multiple personality disorders. Learn more here: https://ifs-institute.com/
8. Psychomotor Therapy is a mind-body therapy which helps people identify and symbolically meet emotional needs from childhood. It’s also used for children. Learn more here: https://integrativepsychotherapy-nm.com/Psychomotor_Therapy.html
9. Neurofeedback Therapy “is a therapeutic intervention that provides immediate feedback from a computer-based program that assesses a client’s brainwave activity.” Read more here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/neurofeedback. It helps to relax pain/fear brainwave patterns and replaces them with calm, thoughtful ones.
10. Finally, treating trauma with theater. This uses ancient Greek plays to help participants work through trauma and is helpful for abused teens. Learn more here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-new-normal/201804/healing-trauma-psychodrama
Wrap-Up of Healing Trauma
That’s a lot of treatments!!! If you don’t know what will help best in your situation, a mental health professional can help figure it out with you. However, this list gives you treatments to try while you wait for an appointment.
If you or a loved one have suffered from trauma, I hope you find something in this post that helps. Till next time, Kathy
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Thank you for sharing this post. I’ve just got The Body Keeps The Score book to read as it’s definitely something I need to look into and address. I feel so much more awareness is needed on the importance of addressing trauma for chronic illness as so many of us have suffered from it. It’s great that there are tools you’ve listed that we can do ourselves to help.
I agree with you about needing more awareness of the connection. Be gentle with yourself as you read this book.
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