PTSD and Psychotherapy

SunsetTrauma is a condition that may develop after being exposed to threatening and chaotic events over which we have no control. These traumatic events create reactions in the body-mind, including fight, flight or freeze, the essential survival responses, changes in cortisol levels and other hormones altering our metabolism.

Even though the threat has passed the body-mind remains in a state of fear and hyper-vigilance, eventually showing up as chronic pain and illness.

If this condition is not treated, it can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD where individuals will experience high arousal (easily triggered), flashbacks of parts of the traumatic event, low arousal (dissociation), disturbances in their social lives as well as muscle tension, numbness, digestive and immune system issues. It’s as if people have to continuously respond to threats with its accompanying physical and psychological pain.

Finding safety is an essential component to healing from trauma in the context of psychotherapy. As clients begin to feel the trauma-related fear they learn how to manage the overwhelming memories using various psychological strategies, relaxation techniques and movements while staying present with feelings and sensations.

Getting to a point of being able to simply feel the experience directly in the body is all that is needed to activate the body’s natural relaxation and restoration functions, the initial step toward healing.

As Fogel suggests:

Confronting trauma memories in the subjective emotional present is required in order to integrate dissociated parts into a more integrated embodied and conceptual self-awareness of accepting and letting go of symptoms. This can only be done, however, in the context of supportive resources, client-therapist co-regulation, ability to verbalize and at the same time to feel, and therapeutic support for a gradual return to re-engagement and self-regulation (p.172).

References

Fogel, A. (2009). The Psychophysiology of Self-Awareness. New York: Norton.

© 2013 Maria Stella, PhD. All Rights Reserved.