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.
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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