“Power psychotherapies” refers to a set of psychological interventions that enhance and facilitate the processing of disturbing emotions and memories. Talk therapy can be helpful in expressing our experience(s), having a witness to our distress, and assist in developing coping resources. But to dissolve the emotional activation connected to our experiences, or the “negative emotional residue” as I term it, involves moving beyond talk therapy to deeper brain systems which hold our trauma. When areas of the brain such as the limbic system (which governs our emotions) are accessed, we have the capacity to not just manage our symptoms, but to dissolve the underlying trauma.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is typically defined as exposure to an event or series of events, which feels life threatening or deeply disturbing with lasting impact on one’s functioning. I expand the definition of trauma to include any event or series of events which overwhelms our ability to effectively cope with the situation. Our response to an event(s) is influenced by:
the amount of social support available
our past history of trauma
our ongoing level of stress
developmental stage of the person experiencing the event; the earlier the experience the greater susceptibility to developing trauma due to lack of inner resources
Trauma is classified in three ways:
Acute - a single incident, such as a car accident
Chronic – repeated or prolonged exposure to distressing experience(s) such as domestic violence
Complex - multiple and/or varied exposure to distressing experience(s) over time.
Somatic Experiencing defines trauma as anything from one’s life experience that remains trapped and unresolved, causing disturbances at the biological, physiological, emotional, mental, or behavioral levels.
The Effects of Trauma on the Body/Mind
Trauma in the body: it is how our body responds to an event
Trauma alters our brain chemistry: it triggers hormonal changes and increases production of adrenaline, cortisol and/or opioids
Trauma impacts our nervous system: threatening events activate our capacity to defend ourselves and prompts the fight, flight, or freeze responses. If our defense responses are interrupted, our nervous system balance can be compromised, and we can become “caught” in over or under activation. Under activation can be a “shut down” response and over activation can appear as anxiety.
Trauma leaves excess arousal energy “stuck” in our system. This energy manifests in a myriad of symptoms and compromises our protective reflexes. (Beyond the Trauma Vortex into a Healing Vortex, Gina Ross).
Experiencing difficult and distressing experiences is a part of human existence, and at times we have the resiliency to be able to process the experience, store it in long term memory, and not experience a lasting impact from it.
But when we experience circumstances that are greater than our coping resources, we are forced to adapt with the tools we have at the time. If we are a child, we have limited resources. Even as adults, intense experiences can leave us with a traumatic imprint. From our experiences we develop belief sets which greatly impact our thinking and behavior. For example, if as a child we experience repeated criticism from a parent, we may form beliefs such as “I’m not good enough” and “I always mess things up”. These beliefs become patterns of thinking and often inform and influence our adult decisions and behavior, largely outside the realm of our consciousness.
Resolution of disturbing memories dissolves negative beliefs, which are then replaced with positive, healthy beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world. When there is a foundation of healthy belief sets, we can strive for healthy relationships, positive social networks, and life fulfillment. We no longer harbor disturbing experiences, or their corresponding belief sets that can be “triggered” by everyday experiences, meaning they rise to the surface and impact our current functioning.
Fortunately, there are now psychological interventions that can tap into these more implicit patterns of behavior and experiences, and provide healing in the deepest areas of our pain. We can also expand our positive sense of self, increase our agency, allow ourselves to access more optimal living.
I strongly recommend utilizing what I term “power therapies” to address unresolved negative experiences. The amazing efficacy of these therapies is thought to be due to the ability to quell and reduce activation of the limbic system, allowing it to reset to “off,” finally restoring the system to a “safe” state.
EMDR is a psychological technique that involves combining bi-lateral stimulation (such as eye movements, or holding alternating, gentle, pulsing “tappers” in your hand, or simply tapping one side of your body and then the other) while focusing on disturbing memories. This bi-lateral stimulation, combined with recognition of underlying beliefs, emotions, and body sensations, aids the processing of emotionally charged, disturbing memories. EMDR believes that the body has an innate desire to heal, in the same way our bodies heal a cut in the skin. When we facilitate the processing of a disturbing memory, we remove the blocks that have kept the memory encapsulated, freeing it to be “metabolized” and stored without the activation.
EMDR desensitizes the trauma, reduces arousal, and helps one shift cognitions, allowing for adaptive, positive beliefs and replacing negative ones. I am certified in EMDR and have found it to be a highly effective tool.
For more information go to https://www.emdria.org/about-emdr-therapy
Energy Psychology is a set of integrative psychotherapy approaches that has roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine and works by stimulating the human energy system. There are many forms of energy psychology, with EFT or emotional freedom technique (EFT) or “tapping” as the most well-known. Energy psychology appears to also impact the limbic system and allow for effective resolution of trauma and psychological disturbances.
Energy Psychology is a mind/body approach that allows blocked energy to be released, allowing the body to calm, release stress, and clear trauma. Clients tap or hold acupressure points while engaging the cognitive system by repeating statements that reflect the emotions and beliefs surrounding the issue. As in EMDR, the client reports progress by assessing their level of disturbance.
I have been trained in several energy psychology techniques and am certified as an energy practitioner (Diplomate in Comprehensive Energy Psychology) by the association of comprehensive energy psychology. I utilize Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) as a supportive self-help tool for clients to address their emotional states when feeling activated.
For more information on Energy Psychology, visit https://www.energypsych.org
Somatic Experiencing Therapy
Somatic Experiencing therapy is a psychological approach that incorporates not only our thoughts, beliefs, and feelings but the state and experience of our body (soma) as well. Most of us focus on our cognitive state, without access to our connected, body centered, internal state. An awareness of what is happening INSIDE of us is called interoception. Cultivation of Interoception is a powerful tool in understanding how our body is connected to our mind, and how attention to the body’s corresponding response to our emotional state impacts our functioning.
By drawing attention to what is happening in our bodies, we activate our body’s natural drive to release stored activation. This release can be evidenced by an automatic deep breath, trembling, yawning, and as the body releases and inhibited actions are allowed to complete, there is restoration in the body.
Somatic experiencing interventions allow the body to complete movements that could not happen during the experience. For example, if you had an experience in which you wanted to flee but were prevented, somatic experiencing allows the body to complete the inhibited movement and free the “stuck” energy of that impulse.
I recommend the above therapies in dealing with any disturbance that blocks one’s potential. Dissolving underlying negative experiences and belief sets is superior to trying to manage symptoms for a lifetime. Power therapies have the capacity to allow one to retain the wisdom learned from trials while dissolving the negative aspects of disturbing memories. Everyone deserves to be freed from disabling belief sets, sabotaging behavior, and trauma triggers. When disturbance from the past is healed, we can live more fully, love more freely, and give more generously.