In Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score, his expertise on trauma uncovers the research of different treatment paths. He emphasizes an important first step in recovery: feeling calm and focused. Although the actual trauma cannot be undone, psychologists can begin working on the marks that trauma has left behind.

This blog will cover a few of the prominent trauma treatments as discussed by Dr. van der Kolk in his book.

Yoga is a great way to ground people in the present moment. The act of yoga combines breathing exercises, stretching, meditation, and various poses that create a smooth rhythm between tension and relaxation. Yoga teaches individuals to pay attention to which muscles are currently being used and to focus on the safety of their current environment in different, sometimes vulnerable, positions. Research has found that both yoga and meditation increase traumatized women’s brain regions related to self-regulation. If you are interested in learning more about yoga and trauma, try reading Yoga and the Quest for the True Self.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
Since the core to recovery is self-awareness, MBSR integrates different mind-body exercises into one 8-week treatment path. It includes yoga, meditation, and working on thought patterns to heal both the body and the mind. Research has shown that MBSR boosts immune response and lowers both blood pressure and cortisol levels. MBSR has also been found to positively affect your brain regions related to emotional regulation, body awareness, and decreased activity of your amygdala and potential triggers.

Social support
Dr. van der Kolk speaks about the single most powerful protector against severe trauma: social support. Much of our brain’s wiring is devoted to human connection. A study done on the children affected by the German bombing during WWII in London found that children who were removed from their parents during the bombing to a safer location suffered worse long-term effects than the children who endured the bombings alongside their parents. We can feel safe when we are assured someone is there to help protect us and get us to safety. Strong social support is a great tool in treating and preventing trauma.

Bodywork/ somatic therapies
Trauma robs us of feeling in control and of feeling safe in our own skin. In order to recover from trauma, it’s important to look into mindful, physical techniques for our bodies. Therapeutic massage is one way to begin bodywork therapy that allows people to discover unknown tensions they’ve been holding in their body. Joining other groups like kick-boxing, self-defense, or Pilates can allow your therapist to begin healing the marks trauma has left behind on your body. Somatic therapies allow patients to feel safe in their skin again by relocating themselves in the present moment.

It’s important to know that medication cannot cure trauma. Medication aims to decrease the symptoms caused by trauma, but taking medication does not create long lasting change. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help patients feel calmer and more in control, which can help their willingness and ability to engage in therapy. Other medications used to aid in trauma recovery include drugs that target the autonomic nervous system, like clonidine which decreases reactivity to stress, tranquilizing drugs, anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic medications. There are some medications that can help reduce nightmares as well.

Writing to yourself, art, music, and dance
Language is essential to healing. Through writing, people can access their inner world of emotions and thoughts they might not yet be ready to talk about. Research has found that patients who wrote about their trauma and their emotions had a drop in doctor visits and improved both their mood and optimism. Writing about personal trauma improves immune function as it helps people to process and recover from stressful events. When it comes to artistic expressions for therapy, less research has been done to understand the logistics of how art, music, or dance aid in trauma recovery. Some research has shown that expressive movement in dealing with trauma gave students better physical health and had an increase in grade point average. These artistic therapies allow people to express the speechlessness of their trauma in a way that is interpretive and meaningful. Writing and artistic expression go hand in hand to help patients deal with traumatic events they have buried deep within themselves.

EMDR- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy is based on the finding that psychologist Francine Shapiro had one day: that rapid eye movements relieved her from the distress of painful memories. EMDR allows patients to heal from their trauma without talking about it and allows them to integrate their traumas into a larger context or perspective. Through EMDR treatment, patients allow their trauma to become a story instead of something immediate and anxiety inducing. Research has shown that EMDR increases prefrontal lobe activation. Another 8-month long study showed that 60% of patients reported being completely “cured” after EMDR treatment. EMDR regulates trauma’s intense memories through restoring a sense of agency and ownership of one’s body and mind.

Overall, trauma therapists use techniques that calm their patient, lay their traumatic memories to rest, and reconnect their patient with other important social connections. Trauma does not have to define anyone’s life, and through research like Dr. van der Kolk’s, we can discover how trauma affects the mind and the body and how to best treat each individual case.

If you are interested in learning more about trauma treatment?
Schedule an appointment today with The Purpose Center! Email or call 919-493-1975.

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