Could Trauma Be a Major Cause of Mental Health Symptoms?

Last fall I attended a conference on trauma and I was surprised by what I found to be the common perspective on trauma.  It differed completely from what I have experienced in my work with clients.  The main idea that I came away with was that most psychotherapists do not see trauma as a core issue in helping their clients heal from their mental health issues. In fact, most therapists don’t even ask their clients about past traumas. I was stunned.

Most therapists, it seems, only look at trauma as a single event or issue – say a client were in a bad car accident and now was afraid to drive or a client saw combat in the war and now was having flashbacks and nightmares. In general, clinicians are not looking at their clients’ past histories and seeing how those histories in which various other, even subtler traumas, may have occurred and contributed to their clients’ reaction to the most recent trauma. They are only looking at present symptoms and trying to alleviate them through changing how clients think or behave toward the most recent event or through pharmacology.  What about the past?

If clinicians are not aware of past trauma, that can have a profound effect on their treatment of their clients.  It is no wonder that therapy is so slow and difficult for clients.

I am coming from the perspective that trauma (and I will look more closely at what I think trauma is in a later blog) is the source of many psycho-therapeutic diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorders, OCD  and many more. I believe that if you can resolve the trauma – present and especially past traumas should they exist, then the symptoms for these and some other diagnoses dissipate. And I do just this in my practice, as do other trauma specialists.

Now I want to make clear, I am not saying that therapists who do not look at trauma are bad therapists, I just feel they are overlooking a significant piece of the puzzle that makes up their clients’ mental health issues. I would like to see the intake process consistently include asking questions about past traumas instead of it being s a rare occurrence. In my opinion, this would be a start in getting clients better, faster.


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Coping Skills – A Red Flag or Where Did I Put My Therapist

     When people start to lose their power and feel helpless or hopeless, they start to develop coping skills. These skills can look like anxiety, depression, OCD  (obsessive compulsive disorder) or other mental health diagnoses. They can look like addictions such as to alcohol, drugs, sex, food, or shopping. These coping skills may be predisposed through in inheritance or learned from one parent or the other.  For instance, one is more apt to use anxiety as a coping skill if one’s parent was particularly anxious. Or if your father was an alcoholic,  you may be more predisposed to use drinking to cope with life’s challenges.

When someone experiences relief from Gentle Reprocessing or some other form of psychotherapy, a client feels he or she has regained his or her power and no longer need to use a coping skill for the time being. If clients feel they need to use a coping skill again, it is not necessarily because the therapy did not work, but because another stressor has come up to bring out this go to behavior. the new stressor may trigger the echo of the old stressor.

If a clients find themselves using their coping skills around a challenging incident for longer than a couple months, they are now stuck in an unproductive coping loop. This is a strong sign it is time to seek help to release the feelings around the challenging event. As the old saying goes, “a stitch in time saves nine.” Clients who seek professional help when something first starts to bother them, will let go of the problem quicker and more easily that the client who waits longer. So if one finds they are using coping skills to get through life, that is a red flag that they need help releasing the emotions around the challenges that are keeping them stuck and taking away their power.

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What Does Psychotherapy Do For People or The Powerful Baby

Psychotherapy at its best helps people get their power back. What do I mean by power?  Well when a baby is born, they appear to have no power. They can not roll over or even move their heads. All they can do is cry. And like any good parent can tell you, that cry is enough to make that child the most powerful person in the house. The baby knows how to get its needs met.

Even up until two or three, many times when a child of this age enters a room of adults, they do it with great self confidence as if to say, here I am you lucky people. Unfortunately, as a child ages, he or she starts to come up against issues they cannot control. It could be an abusive parent, a bully or not being able to do well in school. These traumas start to add up and a child starts to lose his or her power or self confidence. The amount of power lost depends on how devastating the trauma and what kind of support the child is given to help them cope with the trauma.

By the time a person reaches adulthood, he or she has established coping mechanisms to deal with the lost power. These come in the form of addictions of various types, defense mechanisms, strong emotions such as anger and sadness, and acting out behaviors to name a few. When these coping mechanisms no longer work, many times people end up in psychotherapy. And I postulate that good psychotherapy helps give people their lost power back so they can return to the self confidence they had as a baby.

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Better Than Anger Management

Anger management has been a buzz word when it comes to doing something about dealing with anger that is having a negative impact on a person’s life. What if there was a method that actually got rid of that anger – no management needed. It would just be gone.

When people are children, most of the time they are not allowed to show their anger. Adults are allowed to be angry with their children, but when children show signs of anger, they are often punished. So children learn not to show their anger. Every time a child gets angry, it is like he puts an unspent wooded match in a pile to light later. Then, as an adult, something small makes him angry, he lights a match, throws it in the pile of unspent matches and the whole pile ignites and explodes in anger, causing much more anger than the the one match was worth. But unlike real matches that once they are lit, they are gone, these old matches in the pile keep being reignited every time the person gets angry.

By releasing the old reasons for the anger, Gentle Reprocessing helps people let go completely of this old anger. Then when someone gets angry it is much more appropriate. For instance, a man with severe road rage had experienced an abusive childhood. When the feelings of the childhood were released, the road rage could be worked on and he no longer found traffic made him anger. That was very apparent when he called to say he would be late for therapy because of traffic. When he finally arrived he reported being in two long traffic jams. When he was asked how he felt about that, he said rather irritated with the therapist, “I could only move as fast as the car in front of me.” But when the therapist asked if that made him mad, he replied, “Of course not. What could I do?” The man did not even see the therapist’s point in asking if it made him angry. From his new perspective, what was there to be upset about?

So instead of trying to keep a lid on one’s anger by using various tools, Gentle Reprocessing simply helps a client let go of the old feelings that feed the anger.  Once this is done, out of control anger ceases to be a problem in a person’s life.

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A Cure for PTSD?

Over the past several years there has been a lot of talk about treatments for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from EMDR to yoga. I am not sure how well all these other treatments work, but I do know that Gentle Reprocessing works to neutralize trauma.

How does Gentle Reprocessing work? When a traumatic event happens in a person’s life they store is in their psyche in four ways; the event itself, the emotions connected to that event and the body sensations connected to each of those emotions, and finally a set of negative beliefs that support the event. So if you were molested as a child, that would be the event. This would come with multiple emotions such as terror, anger, shame etc. Each of those emotions would be stored somewhere in your body. The terror might be all over, whereas the anger might be in your fists and the shame in your face. You will also start to collect some negative beliefs or cognitions about yourself; it was my fault, I am bad, I am broken. Gentle Reprocessing gently, quickly, and deeply helps people release the emotions that hold the trauma together. Once someone does not feel any emotions about the event, the trauma no longer bothers the victim. At this point, positive cognitions can be installed and easily believed. The traumatized individual no longer feels traumatized.

So what is the proof that this works? Gentle Reprocessing has been developed over the past 20 years. It started being taught to other therapists in 2001. There are well over 400 therapist who have been trained in the technique. Many therapists have made this their primary tool in dealing with trauma and have based their practice on the Gentle Reprocessing. These clinicians believe it works for their clients and continue to use it along with their particular therapy style. Someday a researcher will do a study and find out it works. But for now, both clients and clinicians are using it and finding excellent results.

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