Trauma of any kind can have a great impact not only on our emotional well-being but also our physical well-being. If work towards recovery is not made that traumatic event could have a lifetime affect. To help understand how trauma is connected to the body and what someone can do to bring their body back to a healthy state, I have interviewed therapist Lucy Mahan.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), a Chemical Dependency Counselor level II (CDC II) and am trained in Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR). My interest in trauma began while working in a residential treatment center for adolescent girls. I noticed how emotionally shut down many of the girls were and how difficult it was for them to feel any emotion. It was as if they were walking around with their head separated from their body. I later became interested in how trauma survivors were using substances as a coping skill and transferred to a residential treatment center for men and women with substance abuse. I was amazed that even though the body had physically grown up; the adults were experiencing the same emotional deficits that the younger children had displayed. Not much had changed just because they were older. They were still stuck in their trauma and unable to feel their emotions.”
How is trauma connected to the body?
“Trauma is a complex topic with no simple answers. A brief and general overview given the short amount of time I have here is that the frontal lobe shuts down during trauma. The frontal lobe is responsible for the executive function and relates to the encoding of memory and language. When that part shuts down, the trauma is not stored as language, but as a sight, a sound, a smell, a touch or a feeling. Here is an example: Think back to a time when you experienced something traumatic such as a car accident. Can you explain what happened in words? Possibly not, but probably the sound of screeching tires or watching a car crash on TV will immediately bring back the feelings in some part of your body i.e. the knot in your stomach or a tightness in your chest. This gives an example of what happens with the trauma survivors. The trauma memory is stored in the body, but can’t be accessed by the verbal part of the brain. It is as if the brain and body are disconnected. The body can be triggered by an external stimulus, but the analytical brain might not be able to put that response into words.”
What can someone do to put his/her body back in the healthy order it was before the trauma?
“As we grow up, we attach meaning to different life events in order to move through them. When trauma happens, we look to our composite of meanings to help us heal from the trauma. Have you ever wondered why some people can get back on a plane after a crash and others can’t? It can be a result of the meaning they have attached to that event. Through EMDR, the client and the therapist can explore the disturbances in the body that are reacting to a particular event and begin the process to desensitize them.”
What type of professional is available for someone who has experienced trauma?
“There are many different therapeutic approaches that can help a person heal from trauma. Sometimes treatment is more of a team effort involving the client, a therapist, a psychiatrist, and a family doctor. Probably the most important part of this process though is to find a therapist (or team) whom you can trust and can build a good therapeutic alliance with. To find a trained, qualified professional in his/her field of expertise, a person can always research via the Internet, or can ask for references from hospitals, counseling services, and other resource agencies.”
What last advice would you like to leave for someone who has experienced trauma and has the desire in get back into a healthy emotional and physical state?
“Early treatment intervention can make all the difference in the world. The longer a person waits, the deeper the trauma settles in and can cause not only emotional but physical problems. A variety of physical problems connected to trauma and how trauma is held in the body can include: headaches, intestinal complaints, and sleep disturbances. Studies have shown that once the body begins processing the trauma, some of the physical and emotional problems can be alleviated.”
Thank you Lucy for doing the interview on how trauma is connected to the body. For more information on Lucy Mahan or her work you can check out her website on mahancounseling.com or contact her at 907 240-1465.
How to Overcome Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse
What Sexual Abuse is and How You Can Help