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PTSD Professional Perspective: Complementary Therapies for PTSD

Posted Mar 12 2010 12:00am

Friday, March 12th, 2010 • •

Every now and then you meet such a quality person you become keenly aware that there aren’t that many around. Teresa Bennett-Pasquale is one of those people. We met at a local event for domestic violence. We started talking and couldn’t stop. Today, the conversation continues.

Teresa is that fabulous combination of survivor, trauma therapist, bodywork specialist and believer in PTSD healing. Last weekend she launched a Yoga for Trauma Survivors class right here in Palm Beach County. You’ll see from her guest post that not only does she believe in healing, she’s got some great ideas for shaping up a plan.

I could, in fact, spend about the length of a book (which I am in the process of doing) discussing the applicable methods of treatment and therapeutic healing in the realm of complementary therapies.  As a therapist I have learned over time that the field of psychotherapy is vast and there is often a need to use a pinch of this and a touch of that to make the right formula for treating any patient; and it varies some depending upon the person who walks through my door.

As a trauma therapist I have learned that so much of trauma is stored and held in the body and, often, to access trauma there must also be some therapeutic accessing of the body as well as the mind and emotions.  There is also a need to relearn connection with the world as often people shut down their emotions and their capacity for trust and intimacy with other humans is completely stagnated.

When a person is traumatized it is as if their “normal” way of functioning has been put on pause and they are left in a fight or flight survival state where all they are able to do is get through the day and keep themselves safe.

A person normally stores their memories of things that have happened to them in a kind of brain card catalog.  You experience something and then it is stored as a past memory in your brain.  When someone experiences something traumatic their capacity to store the memory as a memory in that mental card catalog becomes stuck.  The memory becomes more of a living thing, present in every moment it is recalled as if it were happening all over again.  This ignites all of a person’s sensory response around the traumatic experience and activates the fight or flight mechanism inherent in all living things for survival.

A traumatized brain reads every recalled traumatic experience as if it was happening in the moment and the body responds accordingly.  This means your pulse will race, your awareness of your surroundings will be heightened to a point of acute anxiety, and all of your hormones will hit a peak-it is as though you are  suddenly a deer racing away from an imminent lion attack.

Additionally, the Broca’s Area of the brain, the part that controls the function of speech, has been found to often shut down when a trauma is triggered and recalled.  This newfound data validates a need for accessing a person’s emotions around trauma and their experience of it without always going straight to “Talk Therapy”.    Sometimes there needs to be an alternative to talk that can be sought and used in tandem with a talk therapy approach.

Many methods outside of the talk therapy realm are currently being explored as avenues of treatment: yoga, dance, drama, creative writing, art, animal-based, and other therapies that tap into the senses and help to cultivate a relationship with oneself, a capacity to create a healing storyline, and a means of connection without having to talk it out.  I have professionally, and personally, had an opportunity to explore the powerful capacity for healing in many of these methods and the successes has always surpassed my expectations.  The beautiful byproduct is that besides being healing for the participator it creates amazing works of art, relationships, and connections beyond that person and ripples into the world beyond the trauma survivor.

I went to a lecture where Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, well known traumatologist stated, “Competence is the antidote,” while discussing the alternative methods to trauma treatment.  This statement is not only succinct but has proven, in my practice, to be the essence of much of the progress my patients have made using alternative therapies.  They learn to love themselves, connect with their bodies and minds, connect with others, and in the process they learn their own capacity to create-love, healing, and tangible creative works.

In a series of writings to come on my blog I will touch on certain elements of complementary healing methods namely dance therapy, yoga therapy, animal-assisted therapy, and writing therapy.  I will also touch on issues of trauma in the body when the trauma is the body: dealing with chronic illness and disease.  I will also discuss the mind and its relationship to the body, talking in more detail about the way that a human brain reacts to trauma and how that affects a person’s bodily responses in a primer of the neurobiology of trauma.  Additionally, I will discuss current issues and discussions within the trauma community including issues of addiction and trauma and traumatic brain injury (TBI) and trauma.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a complex response to a traumatizing event thrust into a person’s life, body, and mind.  I hope that the information I have garnered professionally can be of use to anyone trying to understand the issues of trauma as a survivor, a friend, family member, or professional.

Teresa Bennett Pasquale, LCSW graduated from New York University’s School of Social work with a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work. In 2009 she was awarded the NYU Silver School of Social Work’s “Outstanding Recent Alumna Award” for innovative and creative treatment with trauma survivors including Multimedia Programming, Cinematherapy, and Yoga Group treatment. She is a trained yoga teacher and has begun teaching “Yoga for Trauma Survivors” at Yoga & Inner Peace in Lake Worth, FL.

She is the founder or EMBODY MENTAL HEALTH a resource for information on trauma, issues of emotional distress, and complementary therapies for wellness and healing. For more information go to www.embodymentalhealth.com . Follow her blog , find her on and also on Twitter @ EMBODYment . For more info about Yoga & Inner Peace trauma class which runs Saturdays from 1-2:30pm click here .

The opinions of this post solely belong to the author. To contribute to ‘Professional Perspective’ contact Michele .

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