Thursday, August 27, 2015

Somatic experiencing: using interoception and proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy

The balance between associating with a traumatic experience, and thereby resolving it, and being flooded or overwhelmed by it, is so delicate. It needs to be done slowly and safely. Peter Levine uses the mythology of Medusa as an example of how to approach trauma safely. You never look her directly in the eye or she can turn you to stone (i.e. immobilise you), and the same goes for trauma, it does need to be 'faced', but safely. If we don't approach trauma safely, we run the risk of retraumatising ourselves and the proverbial black hole becomes bigger and more frightening.

I'd like to share an excerpt from an excellent article from Peter Payne, Peter Levine and Mardi Crane-Godreau below. As the article says "Yet Simon is correct: the trauma around the accident cannot and should not be avoided indefinitely". If we don't face our trauma, we also run the risk of being constantly triggered (and overwhelmed) which often, if not always, results in retraumatisation. Here is an excerpt of the article:

Despite my attempt to keep things slow, Simon slipped into the “trauma vortex”; the memory of getting into the car triggered an intense recollection of the accident accompanied by strong activation of the ANS and the rest of the CRN, and I had to act quickly to bring him back to the present so that his nervous system could regain its balance. In SE [somatic experiencing] one is walking the tightrope between not enough activation, in which case there is no discharge because there is no activation to discharge; and full-blown reactivation of the trauma memory, in which aspects of the trauma are relived and the person again experiences overwhelm. This can actually be harmful, and can compound the original trauma. Such a “dive” into the black hole, the “vortex of trauma,” involves a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop, in which the proprioceptive and interoceptive feedback (somatic markers Damasio et al., 1991, 1996) from the neurally encoded memory trace (engram), becomes a trigger for further activation (Liu et al., 2012); a runaway loop which can lead to extreme simultaneous activation of both sympathetic and parasympathetic (dorsal vagal) bringing about a dissociated state within seconds; see Figure 6. One of the tasks of SE is to interrupt this destructive loop. To this end, SE uses concurrent evocation of positive interoceptive experiences, which may help alter the valence of the disturbing memories (Quirin et al., 2011); this process has been demonstrated in rats (Redondo, 2014). Other aspects of the mechanism whereby SE prevents the traumatic positive feedback loop are discussed below as “biological completion.” Continue reading the article for free 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The myth of negative emotions

I'd like to share this post from Karla McLaren's blog. I think her work on emotions is crucially important because the more emotionally literate we are, the better the quality of our life and relationships. Being able to feel all of our emotions is true emotional freedom.

The Myth of Negative Emotions is of course related to the Myth of Positive Emotions 
In my work with emotions, I focus on the intelligence, gifts, and skills that every emotion brings to you. I don’t leave any emotions out, and I don’t treat any emotion as better or worse than any other. This unified and ecological approach to emotions treats all emotions as vital, irreplaceable aspects of your neurology, your cognition, your social skills, and your awareness.
I’ve discovered over the last four decades of study, research, and practice that emotions are central to everything we do, everything we think, everything we learn, and everything we are. 
Emotions evolved over millions of years to help us become socially successful primates, and every single one of them is vital to our functioning. We can’t leave any of them out if we want to live whole lives with all of our skills and all of our intelligence intact.
But sadly, leaving some emotions out and focusing too much attention on others is the essence of the emotional education most of us receive. Instead of learning how to work with the genius inside all of our emotions, we’re taught to suppress or run from the allegedly negative ones, and to overemphasize or attempt to imprison the allegedly positive ones. Read on

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Being frozen in time

Being frozen in time is essentially what being traumatised means, regardless of what caused the trauma. It is absolutely useless to say to someone, get over it, the past is the past and all the other clich├ęs that are bandied about which essentially just serve to shame a traumatised person that they haven't been able to 'get over it'. As Bessel van der Kolk says "trauma is not an issue of cognition, it's an issue of disordered biological systems". It is why talk therapy, by itself, just doesn't work as well as body based therapies (which include talking as one of their tools). Any effective trauma therapy needs to include the body, it's just ludicrous to leave the body out of the healing equation and mainstream psychiatry and psychology have done exactly that.

This is also why trauma is a uniquely personal and subjective experience. While there are horrific things that go on in this life, comparisons are odious and only serve to minimise and shame some people's experience if they haven't experienced what is supposedly an objective traumatic event, as defined by criterion A1 in the DSM's PTSD criteria (the only diagnosis for someone who has been traumatised, but a PTSD diagnosis does not go anywhere near covering the entire gamut of symptoms traumatised people experience, read more here).

Unfreezing what is frozen is how we resolve our traumas and there are many modalities that can do that. We just need to find the one that feels right for us, and that can change from time to time.