Overlooking Fundamental Truths That Help Us Heal Trauma
Over the past fifty years, psychiatric medications have become a mainstay in our culture, with dubious consequences.
The theory that mental illness is caused primarily by chemical imbalances in the brain that can be corrected by specific drugs has become accepted by psychiatrists, doctors, the media and the general public.
However, if psychiatric drugs, such as anti-depressants, are so effective, why has the number of people suffering with depression increased so dramatically over the past two decades?
The reality is that there is little evidence that mental illness is caused by specific chemical imbalances (the brain disease model), or that psychiatric drugs are actually effective. However, drugs are so profitable there will always be strong campaigns arguing for their use, despite their adverse consequences.
Mainstream medicine is firmly committed to a better life through chemistry, even if this means that practitioners are just ameliorating the symptoms of a problem, rather than addressing it’s underlying causes.
In his seminal book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk writes the following:
'The brain-disease model overlooks four fundamental truths:
(1) our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another. Restoring relationships and community is central to restoring well-being.
(2) language gives us the power to change ourselves and others by communicating our experiences, helping us to define what we know, and finding a common sense of meaning.
(3) we have the ability to regulate our own physiology, including some of the so-called involuntary functions of the body and brain, through such basic activities as breathing, moving and touching; and
(4) we can change social conditions to create environments in which children and adults can feel safe and where they can survive.
When we ignore these quintessential dimensions of humanity, we deprive people of ways to heal from trauma and restore their autonomy. Being a patient, rather than a participant in one’s healing process, separates suffering people from their community and alienates them from an inner sense of self.
Given the limitations of drugs, I started to wonder if we could find more natural ways to help people deal with their post-traumatic responses.’
In reading Bessel’s seminal book, you will learn some of these natural ways of helping people deal with their post-traumatic responses.
One of the world's foremost psychiatrists specializing in PTSD, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk visits Big Think to discuss the history of the disorder, its varying effects on sufferers of all ages, and forms of treatment that can "help people to come back to life." To understand PTSD, says Dr. van der Kolk, you have to understand the nature of trauma and the ways in which traumatic triggers can vaporize anyone's joie de vivre.
Healing From Trauma: Owning Your Self
‘Nobody can “treat” a war, or abuse, or rape, molestation, or any other horrendous event, for that matter; what has happened cannot be undone.
But what can be dealt with are the imprints of the trauma on body, mind and soul: the crushing sensations in your chest that you may label as anxiety or depression; the fear of losing control; always being on alert for danger or rejection; the self-loathing; the nightmares and flashbacks; the fog that keeps you from staying on task and engaging fully in what you are doing; being unable to fully open your heart to another human being.
Trauma robs you of the feeling that you are in charge of yourself, of what I will call self-leadership in the chapters to come.
The challenge of recovery is to establish ownership of your body and your mind – of your self. This means feeling free to know what you know and to feel what you feel without becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed. For most people this involves
(1) finding a way to become calm and focused,
(2) learning to maintain that calm in response to images, thoughts, sounds, physical sensations that remind you of the past,
(3) finding a way of being fully alive in the present and engaged with the people around you,
(4) not having to keep secrets from yourself, including secrets about the ways that you have managed to survive.
These goals are not steps to be achieved, one by one, in some fixed sequence. They overlap, and some may be more difficult than others, depending on individual circumstances.
In each of the chapters that follow, I’ll talk about specific methods or approaches to accomplish them. I have tried to make these chapters useful both to trauma survivors and to the therapists who are treating them. People under stress may also find them useful.
I’ve used every one of these methods extensively to treat my patients, and I have also experienced them myself. Some people get better using one of these methods, but most are helped by different approaches at different stages of their recovery…’ Bessel van der Kolk
‘Study after study shows that having a good support network constitutes the single most powerful protection against becoming traumatized. Safety and terror are incompatible.
When we are terrified, nothing calms us down like the reassuring voice or the firm embrace of someone we trust. Frightened adults respond to the same comforts as terrified children: gentle holding and rocking and the assurance that somebody bigger and stronger is taking care of things, so you can safely go to sleep.
In order to recover, mind, body, and brain need to be convinced that it is safe to let go. This happens only when you feel safe at a visceral level and allow yourself to connect that sense of safety with memories of past helplessness…
Traumatized human beings recover in the context of relationships: with families, loved ones, AA meetings, veterans’ organizations, religious communities, or professional therapists.
The role of those relationships is to provide physical and emotional safety, including safety from feeling shamed, admonished, or judged, and to bolster the courage to tolerate, face, and process the reality of what has happened.’ Bessel van der Kolk
> The Nature of Healing