Many leading psychologists now believe that the roots of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) lie in our bodies and that it is important to treat the physical as well as the psychological manifestations of trauma to provide integrated, effective therapy for PTSD sufferers.
Dutch psychologist Dr Bessel van der Kolk, a leading authority on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), explains how trauma affects the body physically as well as psychologically:
“What most people do not realise is that trauma is not the story of something awful that happened in the past, but the residue of imprints left behind in people’s sensory and hormonal systems. Traumatised people often are terrified of the sensations in their own bodies. Most trauma-sensitive people need some form of body-oriented psychotherapy or bodywork to regain a sense of safety in their bodies.”*
For someone to heal from PTSD, Dr van der Kolk believes the patient needs to be attuned to their body’s habitual patterns.
“PTSD causes memory to be stored at a sensory level in the body…Mindfulness, learning to become a careful observer of the ebb and flow of internal experience, and noticing whatever thoughts, feelings, body sensations and impulses emerge are important componenets in healing PTSD.”
Traumatic stress triggers physiological reactions throughout the body which can manifest themselves as physical ailments such as headaches, fatigue, insomnia and digestive problems. To ease the phsyical discomfort people may resort to drastic measures such as food, work, drugs or alcohol and the more this happens the harder it is for them to be present in the moment – they become dissociated from the present.
Body-focused therapies aim to reconnect the sufferer.
Consultants at The Oxford Development Centre use a combinations of body-focussed therapies such as Sensorimotor psychotherapy, EMDR, Mindfulness and Calatonia to help PTSD sufferers. Look out for future blogs when we will give more information about these different treatments, which can be used separately or in conjunction with other therapies depending on the specific needs of the individual client.