Category: Healing Trauma

Responding to moral injury in veterans

  According to the most recent study conducted by the Department of Veteran Affairs, twenty veterans a day commit suicide. Veterans account for eighteen percent of all suicides in the United States, but they are less than nine percent of the population. And it’s not just veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who …

Artists on the Couch

A Review of Art and Mourning: The Role of Creativity in Healing Trauma and Loss  by Esther Dreifuss-Kattan   Click on title below to read the review (downloads as Word document; contact me if you would like a pdf copy): Artists on the Couch: Trauma and Loss in the Lives of Twentieth Century Creatives First published …

How chronic traumatization interferes with meeting goals and completing actions

Trauma-related stress reveals itself in many ways: flashbacks, nightmares, emotional overwhelm, shame, obsessive thoughts, decreased concentration, apathy, and even loss of a sense of self. When trauma-related stress is chronic, which is a common outcome of early life abuse and neglect, these symptoms become a way to live without actively recalling the past. As one …

Know your habitual defense responses and live within your window of tolerance

Here’s the scenario: You are moving across country. Driving from Los Angeles, CA to Sarasota, FL. Everything you own is in your car. EVERYTHING. You need to make it to Sarasota FAST. You start a new job in less than a week. You’ve given yourself 3 days driving — at most! — and 2 days to settle into your new …

Transformative approaches to crises, self-doubt & extreme states

Crises and self-doubt plague all of us at different times in our lives. A natural response is to want to escape the turmoil and angst, and return to solid ground as quick as possible. Yet when we can remain open to suffering, and not shut down or numb out, troubled times can become opportunities for deep transformation. Murray Stein describes …

Individuation and the spiritual aspects of healing trauma

I am reading Murray Stein’s wonderful book, Minding the Self: Jungian Meditations on Contemporary Spirituality, after spending the weekend assisting a sensorimotor psychotherapy training. On first glance, spirituality and neurobiologically-informed psychotherapy might seem to have little in common. However, one of the topics in the sensorimotor psychotherapy training was the model of structural dissociation — …

The revolution found within

In trauma healing, there is often an effort to create a more bounded existence — a life not struggling with uncontrollable reactions to trauma triggers or the avoidance of them (and instead living within the window of tolerance). However, this shouldn’t be confused with losing the capacity to live freely and openly in one’s mind. For some of us, the …

Is it possible to recover from rape and sexual abuse? Yes and No

When she was twenty-two years old, philosopher Karyn L. Freedman was viciously raped at knifepoint. She narrowly escaped being murdered and her body disposed, perhaps never to be found. In her memoir, One Hour in Paris, Freedman recounted her efforts to heal from this horrifying ordeal. Nearly 25 years have passed since she was raped, …

What I learned about the importance of ‘tend and befriend’ while surrounded by a SWAT team

The pretty South African woman sitting next to me said our flight from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth was taking longer than expected, although I hadn’t noticed. I arrived in South Africa only a few hours before. Jet lagged, I was wrestling with the cellophane wrapper guarding the plastic cutlery that came with my in-flight meal. …

Imagining suicide

Twice weekly, I commute across the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve taken this route for over a year, yet the view still consumes me. Whether marveling at the Bridge, seeing the sun (or fog) mingle with the Pacific Ocean, or eyeing the cramped San Francisco skyline that signals the end of my workday, I feel part …

“Unfinished Conversation: Healing From Suicide and Loss”

Robert E. Lesoine’s best friend Larry took his life by suicide on October 15, 2005. Although Lesoine knew Larry was struggling with feelings of disappointment, dejection, and loss, along with the return of debilitating pain associated with a past injury, Lesoine did not see the intensity of Larry’s despair. In his grief, Lesoine, who practices …

Too stressed to meditate?

Buddhist psychology claims there are three primary feelings, or sensations, which meditation can help access: Pleasant, Painful, and Neutral. Arising from these primary feelings are our reactions to them, the so-called secondary emotions. For example, we feel desire or joy in reaction to pleasant feelings, anger or fear in response to painful feelings, and boredom …

The sensorimotor approach to storying trauma

Far too often, getting on with ‘everyday life’ requires suppressing the impact of traumatic stress on body, mind, and spirit. This self-imposed desensitization to one’s own suffering also lessens how empathetic we are to others’ suffering, including to their stories of trauma. Much like the Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, and blog aggregates that keep us …

Want to reduce mental illness? Address trauma. Want to save the world? Address trauma.

Different explanations have been given for the increased number of people suffering from mental illness. Some have claimed the increase is the result of ever-expanding diagnostic criteria and syndromes that risk medicalizing normal emotional reactions. Others argue the increase is the result of the pharmaceutical industry financially courting the medical establishment as well as using …

Attachment theory through a cultural lens

In an article titled “Attachment and Culture (citation below),” Heidi Keller exposes attachment theory’s Western, middle-class assumptions. She argues: “… the definition of attachment in mainstream attachment research are in line with the conception of psychological autonomy, adaptive for Western middle-class, but deviate from the cultural values of many non-Western and mainly rural ecosocial environments.” …

History after trauma

In 2012, I saw on display at SFMOMA Sam Durant’s “History never ends, I hate to bother you”: Sadie Coles HQ gave this explanation of the piece: “The show’s title [History Never Ends, I Hate to Bother You] may furthermore be read as a sardonic refutation of Francis Fukuyama’s famous postmodern thesis ‘The End of History?’, which proposed …

Taking that leap of faith

Photo of paraglider.

One of my teachers at Pacifica Graduate Institute called psychotherapy “the hope manufacturing business.” And frankly, if my first meetings with a therapist left me feeling dejected, I’d likely think that person was pretty lousy at her or his job. Psychotherapy is time-consuming, expensive, and shines a spotlight on the painful stuff we have difficulty getting over …

A sensorimotor approach to becoming indigenous (and healing trauma)

Trickster plays with me. Last week I wrote about Indigenous wisdom as a “gentle” trickster for violent, destructive times. This week, while hiking among the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park, I learned the Paiutes Indians called these rock pillars the “Legend People,” who coyote trickster turned to stone because of their evil ways. Looking …

The “Ides of March” in the cycle of growth

“Beware the Ides of March,” says the soothsayer to Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s drama about the leader’s demise. This phrase, which once forewarned Caesar’s assassination, is uttered each spring by mental health professionals. According to folk wisdom, the season coincides with an increase in mental disorders and symptoms of psychological distress. “March Madness” has become …

ADHD: When meds (and genes) become a failure to act

Photo of mural in San Francisco's Mission District.

While reading a 2007 press release from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), I became unusually hopeful for youths diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A study performed jointly by the NIMH and the National Institute of Health revealed the brains of youths with ADHD develop normally but at different rates. In the prefrontal …

All those lingering lusty images…

Large Lizards Copulating

There’s something untoward about a married woman of my age writing about lust, let alone feeling it. I should be spending time managing my hormones rather than hot flashes of an entirely different sort. But I am here to disclose that, yes, lust continues well into middle age. And here lies the problem: lust continues …

Love and the split self

The other night, I watched the movie, Take This Waltz (2011). (I try not to give the ending away, but if it’s in your movie queue, you might want to pass on reading the rest of this paragraph.) The protagonist, a young Canadian woman, is happily married, although not excited about her life.  She writes …

1.Stop. 2.Blink. 3.Imagine. (Repeat)

Chaim Potok wrote: “Life is like the blink of an eye. What is it worth? Nothing. But the eye that blinks — that is something.” Yet Tamami Nakano of Osaka University and her colleagues are discovering the blink is meaningful. Rather than just a mechanical reflex that keeps the eyeball moist and flaps away dust, …

The wisdom of no escape

For several days, I felt a physical uneasiness in response to the Newtown tragedy. From my sensorimotor psychotherapy training, I interpreted the activation in my body and my unusual emotional sensitivity as evidence that I was outside the window of tolerance. You know you are in your window of tolerance when you are resilient to …

Dioramic visions of a forgotten past

Do you remember childhood field trips to science museums, gazing into dioramas of our distant ancestors? Perhaps you saw artistic renditions of Homo erectus huddled around a fire, or sitting near a faux cave carving stone tools, a nod to our ancestors’ fledgling cognitive capacities and more human-like traits. Saber-tooth cats or woolly mammoths were …

Compassion fatigue and the fear of being a victim

What if there is something fundamental about empathy such that when we cannot act on it, we lose part of ourselves, perhaps even our humanity? What if we have unwittingly created a world in which we chip away at our capacity for empathy, and with it, one of the unique traits of humankind: the ability …

Attachment and the intergenerational transmission of trauma

I have blogged about the connection between love and psychotherapy, and the topic is up again for me after a recent sensorimotor training. In part, the training focused on the relationship between early life attachment, character development, and later life patterns of relating. The gifted (and seemingly indefatigable) Dr. Janina Fisher led the training, tossing …

Trauma’s imaginal worlds

Few people pass from birth to death without intimate knowledge of trauma’s capacity to alter the landscape of the psyche. So many experiences are traumatizing: war, rape, death, car accidents, hurricanes, earthquakes, bullying, scapegoating, incest, family violence, racism, homophobia—and this, a cursory list at best. Even if you are fortunate enough to dodge trauma, its …

Alexithymia, emotional neglect & capitalism: How are they related?

Alexithymia. Now that’s quite the word. Derived from the Ancient Greek, it means “without words for emotions,” and identifies difficulties with recognizing and naming feelings. Since emotions are central for understanding oneself and others, not being able to discern what you feel can cause distress, agitation, and anxiety — along with rocky, unsatisfying relationships. (Honestly, …

“Being Human” from a trauma-informed perspective

I spent Saturday, March 24 at the Being Human 2012 conference with over 900 people who, like me, are preoccupied with the question, What does it mean to be human? Scientists, scholars, and artists addressed four areas where human experience is being redefined: • Perception | Sensations • Mental + Self-Representations | Decision Making • …

EMDR: The documentary film

In the nineteenth century, psychiatrist Pierre Janet was the first to theorize posttraumatic stress resulted from the failure to integrate memories of a traumatic event with otherwise normal mental functioning. Current research in neuroscience and psychology now validates Janet’s original intuitions about the nature of traumatic stress. Treatments like EMDR (“Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing”) also …

What can nightmares teach us?

Few of us make it through childhood without getting the wits scared out of us by a nightmare. Michel Jouvet, professor of experimental medicine and author of The Paradox of Sleep, theorizes such dreams may be behavioral rehearsals for survival, connecting emotions with corresponding actions. The dragon chasing you in your childhood dream is Nature’s …

Does trauma increase creativity?

A 2011 study suggests there may be a connection between creativity and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research conducted by Robert Miller and David Johnson revealed PTSD correlates with a greater capacity for symbolic representation, which is necessary for artistic as well as scientific endeavors. The study compared 56 Vietnam combat veterans with 14 veterans who …

What good is there in remembering trauma?

Would you erase devastating memories if given the chance? By blocking a memory-sustaining enzyme, scientists in America and Israel have successfully eliminated long-term memories in rats. Until now, long-term memories were thought to develop with structural changes in the synaptic connections between neurons, making it difficult to imagine removing painful memories without damaging the brain. …

Listening to schizophrenia

The National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) website makes it seem the mystery of schizophrenia is resolved: “Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder that affects about 1.1 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year. People with schizophrenia sometimes hear voices others don’t hear, believe that others …

Why is suicide increasing in midlife?

What leads a middle-aged person to contemplate suicide? A failed relationship? Financial devastation? Drug abuse? All of these explanations have been suggested for an unexpected increase in suicides in persons 45 to 54 years old. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC-P), this age group had a 20 percent increase in suicides …