Psychological Trauma (PTSD) Treatment at CSS
What is psychological trauma?
Not the traumatising event itself, but the extent to which our bodies and minds become overwhelmed by it. Because our bodies are different and respond differently to any given event, there is no specific level of danger that could cause psychological trauma. What frequently brings on the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is our sense of helplessness in the face of such overwhelming events. In the presence of extreme danger, humans often dissociate — that is, turn off their awareness of the present moment to lower the unavoidable distress that moment causes.
In the aftermath of the traumatic event, the dissociation may recur whenever the memory of the trauma surfaces. Thus, traumatised people often respond with dissociation to minor events such as sounds, smells, or even a certain turn of phrase in a conversation. This tendency to dissociate or have an exaggerated response to reminders of the traumatic event can bring on so much suffering that usually this is the cause that brings people to treatment.
Additionally, traumatised people often experience other symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations, anger and impulse control issues, which exacerbate their sense of not being in control.
The leading expert in trauma treatment Bessel van der Kolk, MD claims that trauma is an event that overwhelms the central nervous system, altering the way we process and recall memories. Van der Kolk explains, that because traumatic memories are stored on such a physical level and trigger such strong visceral responses, the aftereffects of psychological trauma and PTSD cannot be successfully treated via “talk therapy” alone.
A combination of expressive and body centred therapies in combination with “talk” therapy offers a much more effective tool of treatment.
What to expect in the course of treatment
In my practice I approach trauma treatment first through development of a secure connection with my clients in a soothing therapeutic environment.
Second, I focus on educating my clients about the way trauma affects their current functioning. One point is the most important for my clients to understand: PTSD symptoms are a normal reaction to the traumatic experience.
As my clients gain a deeper understanding of their present condition, I offer multiple tools to help them recover their lost ability to control their emotions. As my clients learn to feel safer, they also feel more comfortable to talk about their memories.
When the client is ready to revisit the traumatic memories, art offers a less triggering alternative compared with verbal discussion. Eventually there comes a time when the clients feel safe and in control enough to verbalise their experience.
Art Therapy also has a lot to offer in the treatment of trauma. Because art making engages a person on a physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual level it has a great potential to enhance a sense of inner integration.