Making the Broken Whole

how our brains heal from trauma

If you're reading this, it may be because you or someone you love is experiencing the after-effects of trauma. You may have been feeling trapped, overwhelmed, even angry. Perhaps recent events (like a globalPandemic) have stirred up unsettling old memories, intensifying your struggle. Maybe you've even begun to wonder whether life will ever feel any better than this.

If this sounds familiar, please keep reading. This was written for you. 

People who have experienced trauma can spend years going to doctors, therapists, pastors, knowing that something is wrong but unable to account for it. Not experiencing any improvement, they sometimes even begin questioning their own sanity. But they’re not crazy. They're experiencing the effects of trauma. And once this is understood, it is possible to take real and meaningful steps toward healing.  

By taking the time to read this, you've taken one important step toward freedom in your life. Trauma tempts us to hide ourselves in self-protection, but genuine healing comes through the context of safe relationships. I want you to know, one survivor to another, that there is real hope for a better future. 

HOW TRAUMA CAN AFFECT US 

Sometimes, trauma is obvious—rape, natural disasters, unexpected death of a loved one. But other forms of trauma are sometimes more subtle—rejection or emotional abuse from an important attachment figure, one’s whole world changing (as with COVID-19), the feeling of helplessness when something terrible happens to someone we love or cultural displacement, to name a few.  

What makes something traumatic is not the event itself but rather a person’s experience of that event. The effects of trauma can manifest in a variety ofways, including biological, emotional, spiritual and relational symptoms.   

Below are just a few of the many symptoms that can result from trauma.  

 

HOW OUR BRAINS EXPERIENCE TRAUMA 

The human brain is truly amazing! Different types of information (sensations, images, language, math facts, spacial ordering, time, stories,...etc) are stored all over the brain in different places. During traumatic experiences, the language part of the brain shuts down to allow the survival part of the brain to do what it needs to do to stay alive. Memories are stored in the brain as feelings and experiences. The result is that a person can know with one part of their brain that they are okay while a different part of their brain tells them that they are still in danger and must take action to keep themselves safe. 

 

Some who have experienced trauma may struggle to explain what happened to them, because the part of their brain holding those memories is not the part associated with language. They may feel their memories in the body but not be able to organize these contextually in time and space. These "feeling memories" often intrude in seemingly random patterns, making it difficult to separate the present from the past. 

TALK THERAPY AND TRAUMA 

You need to tell your story, right? Well, maybe . . . but not always.  

In fact, research shows that re-telling the details of a trauma story can often cause more harm than good. This is because the emotional brain can continue to respond to those details asthough they are still happening rather than as an event in the past. Until memories are dealt with in a way the emotional brain can process, the feelings about what happened will remain the same. 

 

A DIFFERENT POSSIBILITY: TRAUMA RECOVERY COACHING 

Coaching for Trauma Recovery?? 

Isn’t Trauma one of the most difficult things for therapists to treat? Well, yes…  

But, maybe, not for the reasons that seem most likely… like the bigness of the trauma event or the intractable patterns that may have developed as a result…. Maybe, the struggle has at least as much to do with the typical structure for treatment. Maybe... 50 minutes, once a week, talking about what happened during the week, is NOT the most effective way to approach trauma treatment.  

If you have been through trauma and standard trauma treatment, you may now be nodding in agreement. It often feels like, even with all the most recent trainings and best efforts, therapy ends up being a rehearsal of all the ways the week was hard or a re-telling of a story that clients have long since become anesthetized to. This is not always the case, of course. But most of my clients show up to our first meeting telling a story of therapy tried and failed, many times over.  

The Simple Truth 

The thing is, with trauma treatment it’s not really about what happened. It's about what is happening now. It’s about what is happening for me today in light of what happened then. Healing is about becoming fully present to today. And for this reason, a more active approach (such as Coaching), of walking alongside survivors, may be preferable. 

What the Research Says 

Current research on trauma and the brain has considerably changed the landscape of what is considered best practice. For example, it is now commonly understood that rehearsing the details of one’s trauma is not the most helpful. In fact, this usually only exacerbates the problem, creating further distress and re-traumatization. Instead, effective therapy focuses on the meaning a person makes of trauma, the feelings and thoughts that went with those negative experiences and how a person is responding to those same feelings and thoughts today.  

Trauma Therapy Options 

Many innovative ways of doing this have been developed, including art therapy interventions, biofeedback, hypnosis, RRT, memory reconsolidation, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, CPT and more. It’s exciting. But the one thing that typically remains the same is the expected structure of therapy. The 50-minute session. This structure, honestly, was not created because it is truly the best way to address pain from the past. It is, rather, a medically determined, insurance delimited, formula for practitioner convenience.  

 What's Missing? 

According to the most recent research, healing trauma requires creating a new experience for the emotional brain. And this is most definitely not a tidy or contained sort of process. So, the question is, how might we change the structure of help to better fit the need?     

THE COACHING DIFFERENCE 

Making something beautiful together 

 

Coaching can allow for greater collaboration, flexibility, and creativity in the healing process. A coach encourages another person, with practical guidance, to persevere in something they are wanting to change or develop.  Coaching allows space and time for growth to occur, with plenty of opportunity to get one's hands messy and learn by doing. 

Because trauma healing is a journey, and different things are needed at different points along the way, Snapdragon Counseling has a variety of trauma healing options, including DIY resources, courses and coaching. I'm delighted to be able to combine my training and qualifications as a licensed therapist with the structures of coaching and the results it can offer.

 Snapdragon opportunities are always biblically grounded, scientifically informed, relationally oriented, and experientially transformative. They are based on my personal life experiences, past and ongoing work with clients and professional training and expertise.

GROWING WITH SNAPDRAGON

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