Offering more tools to treat trauma

I have just received certification as a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP). This will give me more tools to help people overcome trauma.

I have long viewed trauma as a major obstacle to healing and growing. Even if we intellectually know that our trauma is in the past and not happening now, sometimes we still emotionally react as if the trauma is still occurring. This is essentially because the part of the brain that intellectually understands that we aren’t facing a threat, and the part of the brain still reacting to the trauma are not connected.

The amygdala is a part of the brain that senses danger. When it senses danger, it immediately sends signals through the vagus nerve that runs along the spine to various organs in the body. As a result, the heart quickens and more blood gets pumped to the arms and legs. The cerebral cortex—the thinking part of our brain—is partially shut down, because at such a moment, there’s no time to think or analyze—the body needs to act. Our bodies evolved this reaction tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago to act quickly when our ancestors saw, let’s say, a saber-toothed tiger.

Have you ever taken action to avert a threat before you’re consciously aware of what’s going on? It’s definitely happened to me. When I was in my early twenties, I was walking on the edge of a highway when a car veered off the road and started heading straight towards me. The next thing I remember is standing against a fence as I see a truck rear-end the car that had veered off the road. People who saw me, though, saw me jump up and move out of the way so fast that I could have outraced a jackrabbit at that moment. Another example is one day when I was driving in Chicago on a busy two-lane street. Somebody in front of me suddenly hit the brake to make a left turn into a driveway. As I maneuvered around the car to the right, a parked car suddenly darted out from my right. I was conscious of making very quick yet very precise maneuvers on the steering wheel that finished passing the car turning left and then swung left to avoid the parked car coming out. After it all happened, I was slightly bewildered, wondering just how I managed to pull off such a complicated movement with nary a scratch. It scared me that I didn’t know how I managed to do it, but I realized later that our amygdala and vagus nerve are just that talented. They can even harness learned motor skills such as driving in order to steer us out of danger.

Dr. Jennifer Sweeton, PsyD, MS, MA, a trauma specialist and former brain research, has said that our brains are wired for survival, and not necessarily mental health. Unfortunately, this immediate reaction—often critical for our survival—has a tendency to fire when we don’t want to. It’s not that it’s misfiring—it’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. But that also means that trauma can become very distressing and indeed, debilitating.

Seeing how trauma can short circuit our brain’s ability to think clearly in some situations, and seeing how it made life difficult for many of my clients, I learned the Eye Movement Desensitization and Reevaluation (EMDR) technique, which is explained on this page. EMDR has a lot of scientific backing, and is endorsed by organizations as diverse as the American Psychological Association, the Veterans Administration, and the World Health Organization.

The nice thing about the tool is that it isn’t necessary to relive the trauma during treatment and can often produce results surprisingly quickly.

However, I have observed that EMDR doesn’t work for everyone with every situation. Under such circumstances, I offer therapy using the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) model, which is also widely recognized as an effective treatment for trauma. And in the process of getting my CCTP certification, I have learned a number of other modes for treatment, including relaxation exercises, narrative therapy exercises, and other approaches.

Any past trauma can trigger anxiety or PTSD. It’s up to you and no one else to determine what has been traumatic for you. We are all different, we are all complex, and no one can dismiss your trauma as being “not real.”

If trauma has been haunting and even disrupting your life for a long time, fill out the the contact form on this page. I will respond within one business day. We can set up a free 20 minute consultation to see if I would be a good fit for you. Any trauma you’ve endured is not your fault, and no one should expect you to simply “get over it” like flipping a switch. Take the first step today to free yourself from past trauma and enjoy the present.

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