Sunday, May 17, 2009



For years, we psychotherapists got it wrong!

We meant well. We went with the most current studies and 

research at the time.  But we got it wrong. When traumatized 

grievers walked into our offices, we "helped" them by asking 

them to verbally relate to us what happened to throw them into 

such traumatized grief.  Such therapy was misguided! There is 

indeed a time for talk-therapy, but this was not the time!

We got it wrong!

We learn now that the "left-brain" (which includes analytical 

thinking, cognitions, and language) is traumatized during the 

tumultuous experience of a loved one's death. 
To ask clients immediately to talk about 

the death can simply re-traumatize them! 

What IS called for initially is "right-brain" therapy, a therapy 

that utilizes the senses ... what you see-hear-smell-taste-touch, 

also the perceptions, the emotions, as well as the creative aspects 

of one's personality: painting, drawing, playing a musical instrument, 

gardening, walking in the park, writing poetry, etc. -- all right-brain 


Only when sufficiently calmed can attention be focused 

on ideas and the meaning of words.

Brain-Development Expert Bruce Perry

The trauma of the loved-one's death has basically "lodged" in the senses 

and the emotions of the right brain because the analytical, thinking, and 

verbal side (the left brain) was unable to receive all of the vital information 

because the brain was so traumatized by the life-or-death trauma. After such 

trauma, the right hemisphere of the brain is given extra "sensitivity and 

reactivity" within it to help compensate for the loss of power in the left-brain!  

(This explains to me why I started writing poetry "prolifically" after Merry 

Katherine's death.)

Therefore, it is very important for therapy to start with that creative 

right brain before including intensive talk-therapy.

If you have been to therapy and your therapist ever used such techniques 

as EMDR or maybe a Guided Imagery technique, s/he was using “right-brain” 

therapy.  EMDR is Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which 

is a rapid-eye-movement technique to reduce some of the trauma of your story 

for you, or if your therapist uses a Guided Imagery technique, s/he is teaching 

you how to stabilize your emotions so that you can learn to do the self-care that 

restores your calm should the emotions get stirred up too much at any given 

time and trigger your body back into "fight-or-flight" traumatic reactions.  

Ideally, you eventually will be able to use these techniques for yourself at 

home, both for times of crisis and also for healthy maintenance of your war-torn 

emotions. These are just two of the kinds of therapy we have discovered now 

(since the 90's) that best "work" to initially help traumatized grievers when they 

step into our offices.

            That is why interventions that are based on a strictly cognitive,             

problem-solving approach cannot impact terror-driven behavior. 

The primitive brain and mid-brain cannot process cognitive

            solutions aimed at the higher cortical functions.  But imagery,

            with its calming voice tones, soothing music and symbolic             

representations of safety, can settle down hypervigilant brain             

functioning and allow the higher brain to get back to doing its job.

Psychotherapist Belleruth Naparstek


In focusing on the right brain, your therapist must first teach you what you 

must do to get "centered" (stabilized emotionally). After such calming 

techniques are in place, then-and-only-then should the therapist proceed to tap 

into the left-brain's verbal skills.  If done in an appropriately timed way, then 

your thinking and verbal skills can be very helpful to process the grief on 

through with both left- and right-brains now working together!


For an excellent book to read that further articulates this research and 

stipulates the kinds of appropriate therapy called for to effectively treat the 

right brain first, you may want to read Invisible Heroes: Survivors of 

Trauma and How They Heal by Belleruth Naparstek (New York:  

Random House, 2004). (The quotes I have included in this post from 

other experts in the field are from Naparstek's book.)


Oftentimes in trauma, healing cannot be completed because             

traumatic experience becomes locked in various areas of the 

brain.  We don’t work trauma through by just talking about it.              

Talking is primarily a left hemisphere activity.  In order to complete             

the healing process, a traumatized person must access the limbic             

system and the right hemisphere of the brain, where images, body             

sensations and feelings are stored.  By activating this area of the

brain and accessing the stored images, body sensations and feelings,

a person is able to attach meaning to them and move this traumatic             

material to more adaptive resolution.                                              

Psychotherapist Linda Gould


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