Trauma and PTSD: a scar across mind and body
New research has found that traumatic events leave a scar across not only the mind, but the body (the link to the article is below). This study was done with soldiers with PTSD, but keep in mind the fact that there are 10 times as many child abuse survivors with PTSD in the US.
So, genetic abnormalities were found in soldiers suffering from PTSD that were not found in soldiers who had also been through stressful experiences but did not develop PTSD. This brings home an incredibly important point:
Trauma is a medical term. Not all stressful events are traumatic. What is traumatic for one person may not be for another.
Trauma occurs when an overload locks the brain into an irrational pattern, thinking that the traumatic event is still happening. The study's author says it well:
“Most of our stressful experiences don’t leave a long-lasting psychological scar,” said lead author Dr Laurence de Nijs, of Maastricht University, The Netherlands.
“However, for some people who experience chronic severe stress or really terrible traumatic events, the stress does not go away. They are stuck with it and the body’s stress response is stuck in ‘on’ mode."
As the world's leading traumatologist, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, says, "The body keeps the score." When the most primitive, "fight-or-flight" system of the brain feels trapped either through chronic stress or an experience of terrifying helplessness, memories do not move on. They are stuck in the body, even, as seen here, in every single cell.
This is not entirely new information. Dr. Van Der Kolk reported that even the immune systems of traumatized individuals are in high gear, thinking danger is around every corner, and PTSD sufferers are twice as likely to be hospitalized in a given year. This study, however, provides some clues as to the link between mind and body, that is, the control of genetic expression. For instance, genes controlling the production of cells to fight infection may be put on hyperdrive, increasing the immune response.
You may have never had a class on genetics. But researchers really don't know that much more than you do. 20 years ago, it was thought that mapping out the human genome would decode the whole body (this was done). But here, in the most basic functioning of the human body, "fight or flight," we see the point that stymied researchers then: what gene gets turned on, and when, is more important than what genes are simple there. In fact, some segments of DNA that when I was in school were called "junk DNA," it turns out are responsible for turning genes on and off, among other things.
If there's one consistent thing about science, it's not progress, it's arrogance. Therefore, the key to progress in the science of treating trauma, is listening to the unique life experience of each client, and forming a treatment plan together around the whole person. This is why I partner with a local yoga/massage studio. The body keeps the score, and needs as much healing as the mind. And if you want hard evidence on yoga, Dr. Van Der Kolk is currently using it with combat veterans with PTSD, with greater success than talk therapy. And why would talk therapy work, when the whole problem is beyond mental control? No surprise there, but "arguing" clients out of trauma is what most therapists try to do.
In contrast, EMDR is not a talk therapy, and in its own way treats the body in that it addresses that primitive part of the brain where horrible memories become an unending loop of thoughts and emotions. That's why it works for my clients, and that's why it can work for you. Check out other blog posts on EMDR, use Wikipedia, or follow the links on my site. I have never had a client do personal research on EMDR who has not come back enthusiastic about the possibilities.