Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thursday's Therapy - Grief-and-Trauma Treasure Hunt: Is There Healing to Be Found?

Thursday's Therapy

Grief-and-Trauma Treasure Hunt:

Is There Healing to Be Found?


Before, we always thought there was a separation between body and emotion. Even in our doctors' offices, there are physicians who treat the body and psychotherapists who treat the mind and emotions. But we are discovering more and more that body and emotions do not operate separately ~ in fact, they cannot operate separately, as if they were in a vacuum from one another! Instead, all parts of the body and the emotions feed off of the messages of distress each part of the system may send, and then work together to find and then produce the solution.

So what if one part of this intricately interwoven system is thrown off balance by, say, something like life's trauma?

Then one's whole system can be thrown off track, and can even become toxic to oneself. Psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists seek to examine the system to determine what best helps to put the system back together again on behalf of the "psyche" ~ the emotional well-being of the person. Neurologists seek to work on behalf of the brain. Cardiologists seek to work on behalf of the heart. And so on, and so on.

We are now realizing, there needs to be a much more integrated approach to the whole person as all systems are affected by trauma and therefore, the whole person needs to be considered.

The development of our traumatic symptoms over the years has convinced us that the effects of Child-Loss are as much about trauma as about grief!

"We carry our stress with us for a lifetime."

~opening line of his book, Does Stress Damage the Brain, by J. Douglas Bremner, M.D., assoc. professor of psychiatry and radiology at Emory University of Medicine, psychiatrist and neuroscientist

For these first five years of child-loss, we have experienced the effects of a damaged brain due to the trauma of losing our child! It is an invisible disability; others do not see it, but we feel it and know it's there, sending us into hypervigilance and/or hyperarousal and leaving us there whether danger is present or not.

We begin to fear that we cannot trust our own emotions to correctly hone out the REAL dangers present. And that is only one component of our trauma. Many of us cannot work our jobs or careers the ways we once did. We cannot be as "active" with our living children as we once were. Our lives are affected in so many ways, that, even though we walk and talk and breathe and look normal, we know we are not our whole selves that we once were.

Just going to a grief counselor won't cut it.

A grief counselor misses a large part of our child-loss issues. A regular grief counselor does not understand the massive degree of grief in child loss nor do they even know that TRAUMA is a huge factor, or that it even exists in child-loss!

Most counselors come from a "stages-of-grief theory," believing there are essentially several concrete, finite stages that they think come and go in linear fashion, and then one is "healed." Many counselors (and even doctors) do not realize that such a simplistic theory has been totally debunked.


"The brain areas involved in emotion are also involved in memory formation."

~J. Douglas Bremner, M.D.

So child-loss grief and trauma is not just about our emotions. It is also very physiological, greatly affecting our brain! Brain areas including hippocampus, medial prefrontal cortex, and amygdala become extremely affected by our trauma, and they must be managed to best mediate our symptoms of Traumatic Grief. Many of us will have some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and each of these three areas of the brain must be accessed to help us navigate our way through such distress.

These three brain areas mediate memory and the fear response. We are now going to have an impaired brain. We often begin to think we are "losing our minds" because things don't register like they once did; we or sometimes our family members fear seeing symptoms that seem an awful lot like Alzheimers. And it is no wonder, for in both disorders, the hippocampus has been damaged! Our severe grief-and-trauma throws us for a loop. At times, it will impair our memory and dis-regulate our fear response (the part of the brain that should turn off our fear if no real threat is pending, does NOT turn off our fear, so we are left feeling traumatized over and over, and wonder if life will ever be "sane" again. We wonder if we will ever be able to trust our brains to discern true danger as opposed to just signs of possible danger, for example.

The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol race through our systems trying to protect us in such a hypervigilant state even when there is no real danger. And such racing through our bodies repeatedly can ravage our system, weaken our blood vessels, depress our immune system, and before we know it we have added problems like heart disease, or cancer, or both.

But, though we have massive amounts of adjustments to make to our "New Normal," possible treatments to undergo to stabilize our psyche, and preventive activities to do to soothe our post-traumatic stress disorder, it is important to know there is another positive side to things!

Most of our neurologists and psychiatrists were taught that: once the brain becomes damaged and neurons are killed, there is nothing we can do; the neurons die and scar over, making worse problems for us…

But now, we are learning about "Neuroplasticity"!

neuroplasticity - The brain's natural ability to form new connections in order to compensate for injury or changes in the environment. The ability of the brain to reorganize pathways between neurons as a result of new experiences.

Scientists are now discovering a whole new world since brain-imaging shows us the reality of the brain's world. We are learning by watching the brain at work that the brain has the potentiality for what is called "neuroplasticity," meaning there are things we can do to reverse our "brain-damage"! And that is the Treasure Hunt that scientists are on now to find out what all we can do to achieve this recovery of the damage our trauma has done to our brains. And that is the Treasure Hunt Tommy and I are undertaking too so that we can learn how to help ourselves and how to help you heal the parts of yourself that, indeed, can be healed! Stay tuned!

Picture: thanks to
Definition of neuroplasticity -


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