May 30th, 2014

An alternative treatment for psychological trauma


Many bullied targets experience trauma-like symptoms but don’t always have diagnosed PTSD. They suffer intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, avoidance and dissociation. Successful recovery using current treatment techniques is rare. Targets are in search of alternatives. A report in the May 22, 2014 New York Times Magazine by Jeneen Interlandi describes one such alternative.

Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. uses an untested technique to deal with complex trauma and PTSD victims that he calls a “structure,” also called psychomotor therapy, developed by a dancer.

(the victim) would recreate the trauma that haunted him most by calling on people in the room to play certain roles. He would confront those people — with his anger, sorrow, remorse and confusion — and they would respond in character, apologizing, forgiving or validating his feelings as needed. By projecting his “inner world” into three-dimensional space, (the victim) would be able to rewrite his troubled history more thoroughly than other forms of role-play therapy might allow. If the experiment succeeded, the bad memories would be supplemented with an alternative narrative — one that provided feelings of acceptance or forgiveness or love.

Van der Volk, a trained psychiatrist, runs the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Mass.

Van der Volk claims the two most common methods of dealing with trauma — exposure therapy and CBT. Exposure relies on repeated confronting the painful memories until they lose their power. It’s called desensitization. CBT is cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy used by most psychotherapists. van der Volk contends that trauma resets the primitive (sub-cortical deeper than cognitive awareness) regions of the brain to “interpret the world as a dangerous place.” Therefore, he argues, cognition cannot affect it.

He believes that traumatic experiences are stored in the body. His new book is The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (released Sept. 2014).

He believes people’s bodies failed them — legs had not run quickly enough, arms had not pushed powerfully enough, voices had not screamed loudly enough — to avoid disaster.

“The single most important issue for traumatized people is to find a sense of safety in their own bodies”

The key is to reconnect the mind to the body’s sensations. To cope, trauma victims engage is self-numbing to avoid the physical discomfort that comes from reliving painful experiences. Over time, victims get stuck in the past and cannot live in the present. Van der Volk credits yoga, tapping (emotional freedom technique), EMDR, or massage.

He believes labeling all trauma as PTSD is a mistake. PTSD is still defined as acute incidents triggered by a single event. He points out that much trauma is from chronic exposure to abuse and neglect. He wants to distinguish that form from PTSD and call it “developmental trauma disorder.” The DSM does not yet recognize this alternative view.

Several psychotherapists reject learning new things. That’s why we produced Workplace Bullying for Mental Health Professionals. For therapists who do want to learn more about the techniques van der Volk and his associates practice, there is training available.

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The following is remarkable comment that I post here for all to read:

I faced this type of trauma months after the daily 1.5 years of mobbing ended. It lasted for years as the more covert mobbing ensued until I quit (terrorized out) 3 years later. I thought I would never heal from the intense anger, upset, hurt, recurrent thoughts/replays and hypervigilence… my brain felt dehydrated and I had difficulty with short-term memory loss. It was when I took a trip to Thailand 5 months after I quit that I was given a farewell hug from a tour guide (after I paid the day before). He was a monk through high school, and the message he imparted to me was of absolute love and acceptance. It shocked me to my core, and brought me back instantly to a sense of healing and happiness. I credit him with saving my psychological life, if not my physical one. I went back immediately to Thailand to volunteer teach among the monks for 3 months, and have taken up massage training to help others with stress/PTSD. I know the depths of trauma this type of abuse creates. No one should have to suffer it, and more need to understand it.

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This entry was posted on Friday, May 30th, 2014 at 10:23 am and is filed under Media About Bullying, Print: News, Blogs, Magazines, Tutorials About Bullying, WBI Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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  1. R.E. says:

    I faced this type of trauma months after the daily 1.5 years of mobbing ended. It lasted for years as the more covert mobbing ensued until I quit (terrorized out) 3 years later. I thought I would never heal from the intense anger, upset, hurt, recurrent thoughts/replays and hypervigilence… my brain felt dehydrated and I had difficulty with short-term memory loss. It was when I took a trip to Thailand 5 months after I quit that I was given a farewell hug from a tour guide (after I paid the day before). He was a monk through high school, and the message he imparted to me was of absolute love and acceptance. It shocked me to my core, and brought me back instantly to a sense of healing and happiness. I credit him with saving my psychological life, if not my physical one. I went back immediately to Thailand to volunteer teach among the monks for 3 months, and have taken up massage training to help others with stress/PTSD. I know the depths of trauma this type of abuse creates. No one should have to suffer it, and more need to understand it.

    • Melissa Flaherty says:

      Hi R:E. and others reading. :)

      What I do to bring myself back to the land of the living, when I find myself numbing out is to do the simple but enjoyable and relaxing things I would naturally have spend my free time doing, if I had not been mobbed. eg yoga, looking at flowers, sitting in my garden, drinking tea, reading brain chewing gum…

      When the trauma symptoms are triggered, I actually have to make a concerted effort to look towards those simple and enjoyable things, until a feeling of well being and happiness comes back. Without the trauma, I think I would have easily and naturally been a happy and easy going person all my life. It was years before I discovered this technique by myself, to bring back the feeling of well being, without expert help. I sometimes think of it as an advantage of the trauma. Many of us who have been mobbed out of our earning potential also have not access to medical insurance, which causes us to become very good at searching for solutions by trial and error. I am always amazed these days by how alone we actually are, when it comes to getting help, and how we rely on trawling the internet for information, instead of seeing a doctor or therapist.

      What you said, about your trip to Thailand, I have also done some travelling(well a lot of travelling actually). Travelling is such a good therapy for coping with the affects of mobbing, in my opinion. The reason I say this, is because the awards gained from the efforts put in make it worthwhile, and soothing for the soul. This is in contrast with dealing with workplace mobbing, where the gains from coping and combating the mobbing fall way short of the effort put in. At best, one manages to stay calm and hold onto ones reputation, even it mobbing makes it impossible to hold onto ones job.

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