Effectively dealing with trauma and stress depends on achieving a balance between the emotional and rational parts of your brain. You can learn to regulate your emotions in two ways, by strengthening your ability to monitor your body’s sensations, or by recalibrating your autonomic nervous system (ANS).
Talking about distressing feelings can resolve them, but the experience of trauma itself can get in the way of doing that. No matter how much insight and understanding we develop, the rational brain can’t talk the emotional brain out of its own reality. Traumatised people often become “stuck” because they can’t integrate new experiences into their lives: it’s as if the trauma were still going on, every new encounter contaminated by the past. The challenge of therapy is not so much learning to accept the terrible things that have happened but learning how to master internal sensations and emotions. Sensing, naming, and identifying what is going on inside is the first step to recovery.
Knowing that whatever is happening is finite and will sooner or later come to an end makes most experiences tolerable. The opposite is also true: situations become intolerable if they feel interminable and trauma is the ultimate experience of “this will last forever”. Survivors can recover from trauma only when both the emotional and rational brains are fully online. We visit the past in therapy only while clients are firmly rooted in the present and feeling as calm, safe, and grounded as possible (feeling their bottom in the chair, noticing the colour of the carpet). Being anchored in the present while revisiting the trauma opens the possibility of deeply knowing that the terrible events are in the past.
With depersonalisation, conventional talk therapy is virtually useless. The challenge for people like this is to become alert and engaged, a difficult but not impossible task. This is where a “bottom-up” approach to therapy becomes essential, aiming to change the client’s physiology, their relationship to bodily sensations, working with such basic measures as breathing, or evoking and noticing bodily sensations by tapping acupressure points. Psychosis can describe a range of different diagnoses, including schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, schizoaffective disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder with psychosis, and many more. Each person’s experience of psychosis is unique but there are 3 key symptoms that define it: hallucinations, voice hearing and paranoia. For sufferers, things that would normally be unimportant in their environment may suddenly acquire importance: the benign and harmless can become threatening, terrifying. Sadly, they are generally labelled as “severely mentally ill”, with no hope of recovery and either hospitalised or medicated to prevent them from harming themselves. But antipsychotic medications have many undesirable side effects and go no way towards curing the underlying problem.
There is an alternative. Connection, peer support and therapy can allow sufferers to remember that they had stories before the story of psychosis, and eventually come off antipsychotic medication. They can learn to live with their voices, and develop positive working relationships with them so that they help rather than hinder and harass. A specialised approach to therapy is needed, involving listening to the voices, engaging with them and asking questions with kindness and respect, realising that they can bring attention to unresolved emotional problems. If therapy can help the individual to embrace their voices, understand their viewpoint, rather than fearing, ignoring and attacking them, it can lead to a reconciliation between the different parts of the individual: rebuilding their sense of self. Even difficult, negative voices can be recruited as part of the healing journey.
Reliving trauma is dramatic and frightening, but over time, a lack of presence can be even more damaging. My trauma therapy engages the entire person, body and brain, helping clients alter their inner sensory landscape, dealing with their past and helping them to live fully and securely in the present.
I offer a free initial telephone conversation, giving you as much time and space as you need to consider whether you’d like to come and meet me.