Monday, 4 August 2014

August musings on mindbody medicine and trauma

August the month of holidays... someone said on the radio today that August is the 'Sunday' of the months and I agree. It feels like a last-ditch effort to enjoy the sun and note how the nights are drawing in. And yet it's just part of the cycle of life really.

Interesting how in having 'down-time' the mind will remember other times you had that response. I had a client in recently who was about to go on holiday but was having very mixed feelings as she has lost her father recently and she was about to return to his former home in Italy. This manifested though as odd sensations and aches in her back and down her legs. Now, you will know if you have read anything I've written before that I am very much a believer in the mindbody connection. I told her it was very likely that these odd pains were linked to her imminent departure but that she should get checked at the doctors just in case. The doctor gave her a clean bill of health so we were left to work on the symptoms from a mindbody perspective.

According to my experience and the work of Dr. John Sarno, it seems that the mind will create aches and pains to distract you from the more painful and serious emotional pain that you are trying to avoid confronting. I know if you haven't come across this idea before it may sound strange but time and time again I have proved this. Anyhow, it seemed a classic case to me as these pains had come on suddenly a few days before her intended departure.. In our therapy session we started with EFT (emotional freedom technique or tapping) which allows you to both own the symptom but also release it. As we worked together I saw a wave of emotion appear to come from her stomach (where she had located the current pain) and wash over her face - tears soon followed. There was a tremendous amount of grief pent up in this person, which she hadn't really dealt with.

Leaving to go away was both pleasurable (it was a holiday after all) and painful as it was the place she had last seen her father AND in order to go she had to leave her elderly cat who was also very dear to her and who is on borrowed time already. This is a classic case of internal conflict; you both want to do something and you don't want to. The guilt and conflicted feelings come out with back-ache or sciatica or whatever. How can you tell if what you have is a true pathology (i.e structural problem) or a mind-body issue? Chase the pain. What I mean by this is use the EFT protocol (detailed and described in detail on my website to apply the tapping protocol and see if the pain moves. it usually changes in some fundamental way pretty quickly.

For my client, I had instructed her to do this the night before she came to see me as it would give me a strong clue as to whether to treat the pain with physical or mindbody therapy. She reported that it went from her legs to her stomach. So, I had a pretty good idea we were dealing with a mindbody problem. In the therapy we did together the pain moved again from a tightness in the stomach to a constriction in the throat (interesting as this often reflects something unspoken). As we continued this developed into a full blown panic attack so I asked her to move to the table and we worked on calming the autonomic nervous system with belly breathing (which helps to break the shallow breathing- oxygen deprivation cycle triggering panic in the brain) and then I helped her speak her pain and then we shook her limbs to release the pent up emotion  (this last approach has been detailed in Peter Levine's work - Waking the Tiger and Healing Trauma). I find it helps people to experience their emotion through their body which is where it resides. There is much theory around how the mind and subconscious process interact. Again, see the information on my website.

Suffice to say I was successful in this treatment and my client left -shaken obviously but no longer having the trauma in her body. Her pain disappeared immediately and she has recently sent me a text from holiday saying how much she is enjoying herself. (though it's worth noting for accuracy that she did experience another panic attack at a subsequent time - one session is not going to undo 40/50 years of trauma!).

If any of this sounds interesting or you have anything to add please contact me through my website or facebook pages.

1 comment:

  1. I should add that this isn't the first time I've treated a panic attack although it is the first time I've witnessed it first hand. The last time with another client I used EMDR to defuse the underlying false belief which was that she was ;unsafe'. These old beliefs are often downloaded from childhood situations that are infused with fear and a sense of being inescapable. This is powerfully traumatising..