Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday's Therapy - Ways We Grieve, Part Seven - Trauma Therapy

"The researchers suggest that people with PTSD may have impaired function in the front part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex....

"What could be going on?

"The researchers speculate that since the prefrontal cortex sends signals to the amygdala, which is a cluster of nerve cells in the brain that stores memories, including those of fear, stimulating the prefrontal cortex may directly impact the ability to remember a fear response"

Thursday's Therapy

Ways We Grieve,

Part Seven

Trauma Therapy

With inappropriate talk therapy, a traumatic grief survivor can be unhealthily re-traumatized.

Tommy and I have each been in situations in which we were able to openly share some traumatic aspects of our grief. Sometimes making these disclosures were very helpful and therapeutic. Yet, if listeners are out-of-touch with their own emotions, we risk their being unable to respond appropriately to the degree of our pain in a compassionate way. At those times, we each very likely may be left feeling RE-TRAUMATIZED.

Trauma Therapy

A therapist MUST attune carefully to a traumatized griever in therapy when accessing the traumatic emotions and memories. In monitoring the level of stress at all times, the therapist helps the client learn to manage the trauma level as s/he is retrieving it.

It is not healthy for a griever always to AVOID the traumatic memory materials. The material DOES need to be exhumed. But the expert working with the griever must keep a vigilant eye out for the degree of trauma the griever is feeling as he/she retrieves that volatile material so as not to re-traumatize them.

To effectively walk through trauma, it is most helpful to approach the traumatic material from a "position of strength."

To go down deep into the traumatic memories and or emotions too quickly is tantamount emotionally to going down into the ocean depths too quickly, not allowing for atmospheric pressure adjustments as you go deeper into the ocean, and again as you come back up from the deep. Otherwise that diver could develop the potentially hazardous "bends."

The bends can be incredibly painful -- even lethal.

~2009 HowStuffWorks

Similarly, without proper management of the stress level, the griever can feel re-traumatized and left "hung out to dry," and that is NOT helpful.

The griever WILL feel a degree of angst, fear, or sadness, and that is desirable, but to be overwhelmed by the trauma is counter-productive, even damaging.

There needs to be competency, there needs to be credibility, and there needs to be a comforting atmosphere in place throughout traumatic-grief therapy.

The Goal of Grief is to

  • Get in touch with memories/emotions that have been stuck in the traumatized brain,
  • Retrieve these traumatic memories/emotions outintentionally but carefully then
  • Push them into the parts of the brain that are NOT traumatized but are in place to help the griever "process" the grief on through.

As Victor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor stressed, we seem to survive severe trauma when we are able to find meaning amidst our devastation.

There are portions of our brain that can help us take the unbearable devastation we have undergone yet may be unable yet to articulate, helping us to

  • Process the trauma, moving it into the appropriate parts of our brain where we will
  • Brainstorm any possible understandings/solutions/meanings, then
  • Integrate the trauma into a part of our life's narrative.

This is the appropriate Pathway to Healing in Grief Work:

  • Make the unconscious conscious,
  • Integrate the trauma (that has left us non-functional) into our lives today,
  • Develop a narrative for the meaning of our trauma. With these accomplishments, we are led to
  • Empower our lives, which leads us to
  • Function more productively and more meaningfully.

Integrating the trauma into our body, soul, mind, and spirit in a healthy way allows the griever to have

  • More peace,
  • More acceptance of the unacceptable, and
  • A faith that there will be an ultimate resolution to the intolerable loss.

picture of brain and quote from
picture of divers: thanks to

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