Imagine that you’ve been suffering from headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision. You visit your doctor, and she performs a series of tests. Much to your dismay, she reports back that they’ve discovered a brain tumor.
Your doctor prescribes pain killers for your headaches, motion sickness medication for your dizziness, and special prescription glasses for your blurred vision. But she makes no plan to address the source of your symptoms: the tumor itself.
Unthinkable, right? But unfortunately, this is the approach often taken in trauma treatment.
Treating trauma and PTSD through conventional counseling is a lot like taking painkillers for a brain tumor.
Trauma occurs when a terrifying or life-threatening event overwhelms the brain’s ability to cope. The left side of the brain, which problem solves and organizes events within the past, present, and future, temporarily shuts down. With the left side out of commission, the event is encoded and stored in the right side of the brain, where memories are filed in the here-and-now in bits and pieces, instead of the logical, linear way the left side of the brain stores memories.
This causes flashbacks, re-experiencing, triggers, and other symptoms that can make daily life like walking through a field of land mines for a trauma survivor. For those who develop PTSD, their trauma experience becomes an ever-present, inescapable part of life.
Traditional counseling and therapy encourage people to talk about their experiences and problems. However, this creates a problem for the client. The left side of their brain is affected by trauma–the side that allows them to create sequence, order, and to place memories in the appropriate “files” in memory. The left side of the brain is the side that helps us tell stories, and in terms of the traumatic event, that side is disengaged.
For this reason, therapies that rely upon talking to address traumatic experiences can be ineffective. Many patients may find themselves in treatment for years, seeing little results.
Effective trauma therapy creates new links between the right and left sides of the brain so trauma experience become rewired in the left side of the brain. The story can then be given a beginning, middle, and end, and the “mythology” or confusion that accompanies trauma can be addressed. Symptoms can then be more effectively addressed.
In our experience (Wanda Sanchez and Shelly Beach) in trauma therapy, the Instinctual Trauma Response Model (ITR) was extremely effective. (Shelly’s treatment was one week of outpatient; Wanda’s was two). The ITR model incorporates writing with both hands, drawing, and other elements that coordinate the functioning of right and left sides of the brain. At the end of treatment, trauma triggers and other symptoms have diminished so significantly that the only way we can quantify our treatment would be to describe it as “life-changing.” For Wanda, the words would be “life-saving.”
If you or someone you know is suffering from the debilitating symptoms of PTSD, consult a traumatologist. Research the various metrologies used in trauma treatment, and ask people about how successful their treatment has been.
For an overview on trauma and PTSD, download our free ebook, The Truth about Trauma on the home page of PTSDPerspectives.org.
I need to understand how to live with this
Freda, are you asking how to live with PTSD? Have you undergone trauma treatment? Because of my experience and the experiences of those Wanda and I have referred to Intensive Trauma Therapy (ITT) in Morgantown, West Virginia, we always advise people who are struggling with symptoms to talk to the intake therapists there for a professional evaluation. We have found the outpatient treatment at ITT to be highly effective for people who have suffered for years with little success with other forms of therapy. This may not be a possibility for you. If you have not sought out a local trauma therapist, ask for someone to recommend one to you. And for more information on PTSD, consult the website for the Sidran Institute.