As I delve into learning more about trauma and PTSD, I am learning how the best of intentions can lead a person astray in a regressing or damaging way. Working through trauma, trauma release, or PTSD, is very scary and exhausting for the person suffering.
Everything feels like it is out of control: the mind, the body, even one’s soul. A good community/support system is necessary for the person going through this change. A trauma-informed therapist, especially one who specializes in trauma or PTSD and Somatic Experiencing (or other kinds of somatic therapies), is vitally important during this process. The last thing you’d want is to work with a therapist who re-triggers the trauma, it is a terrible experience. It can take time to find the right practitioner to work with, and you may develop a sense of hopelessness, that you’ll never find someone who can help you, but you can: be persistent, don’t give up.
I’ve learned that trauma can re-circulate if not discharged properly. This re-circulation information has been eye-opening, especially with regards to trauma that releases without guidance from a trained professional (be it Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, acupuncture, etc.).
If the client has no body memory of a calm and happy nervous system, no amount of positive thinking/affirmations, herbs or meditation will help return that nervous system to an optimal state because the energy generated from the trauma needs to be discharged and the nervous system needs to re-learn what “normal” is vs “fight/flight/freeze”.
In TCM, the dictum is “treat what you see”. I’ll probably get my herbal privileges revoked when I say this but, I’m not convinced of the use of herbs during trauma discharge aside from dampening down symptoms. If the body has no “normal” memory, the trauma cycle will start up again – I suppose the issue may be time and patience as well as proper care/support, but even so… I don’t have experience working with clients in this regard and welcome what those who do have to say about this topic. Acupuncture Today has an article with a few cases, but they only discuss them in 2-4 week spans, what happened to those clients months/years down the line after they ceased taking their herbal protocols? I don’t know.
So now I’m really questioning the use of herbs with trauma in terms of quelling/calming/adapting/etc. the nervous system, Spirit, adrenals, and so on. Certainly everything has its time and place of use, but… I’m not sure how they fit into a protocol that involves trauma release when the cycle discharge and re-integration of the healthier nervous system is so important in terms of working with a therapist/acupuncturist who specializes in trauma. I see where herbs are beneficial after that re-integration, most certainly.
The concept of grounding is very important with regards to working with trauma – and someone who has been recirculating their trauma for months or years can have the illusion that grounding is not possible. For those who have suffered with trauma all their lives, they may not know what being grounded feels like and need a lot of guidance and support to help reacquaint the mind-body-spirit as an integrated whole. So grounding via meditation is not necessarily a “safe” option for the person suffering, and other ways have to be employed. (This is where Qi Gung and Tai Chi might be beneficial, though I do not have experience in with trauma and these practices.)I also feel compelled to state that recommending meditation to someone going through a trauma release is not necessarily the best idea.
There are several factors that need to be taken into consideration, one of the primary being “does this client feel safe in their body?” and “what happens when they close their eyes?” If they do not feel safe, if when they close their eyes their nervous system takes over and spins them out of control – meditation will not help but in fact make things worse or prevent progress. Being alone with oneself, when one does not feel safe in the body, is a scary experience.
EFT/tapping (even EMDR style tapping) can create a whole host of problems for someone who is caught in a cycle as well. The body which is in a highly reactive state can have trouble calming when it is being stimulated by repeat, aka invasive, touches.
I keep thinking about how PTSD and traumatic release/discharge is, possibly, a variant of Vata-disturbance to the extreme (since it involves the nervous system, and the mind is unable to settle); how with TCM, the Qi and Blood are so scattered and disrupted, it creates a situation where the Shen, Zhi and Hun are unable to take up their proper residences and directions at the proper times. Not to mention what happens to the Yin/Zang Organs of the TCM body in the long term which definitely would benefit from herbal approaches, situation dependent… I’ve written a little bit about that here.
I’m sorry that I don’t have a tidy wrap-up for this post. I wanted to get these thoughts out since they’ve been rolling around in my head a lot. There is so much to learn about trauma and PTSD, and my heart goes out to anyone who is suffering as a result. May you find the help and support that you need, and find the resolution that you deserve. You are seeking out help and resolution, you are taking care of your body in the way your body is trying to take care of you.