Wilderness therapy provides us with a unique opportunity to understand and help people heal from trauma (any overwhelming experience the body and brain cannot successfully integrate and process). As a Somatic Experiencing Therapist, I work in a body-oriented way to help people heal from PTSD, complex PTSD and other physiological symptoms of anxiety, depression and other stress disorders. Somatic Experiencing (SE) draws on research in the areas of stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, medical biophysics and 45 years of successful clinical application by the founder, Dr. Peter Levine. Year after year of clinical application of SE among its many practitioners indicates it is one of the most effective forms of trauma treatment that exists today. And while newer to the wilderness therapy community, more and more programs are recognizing the importance of incorporating body-oriented mindfulness in the healing of their clients.
Viewing entries tagged with 'trauma'
“We’re all neurotic, by the way.” I say smiling to a class of yoga students, as they sit on their mat, looking at me expectantly. Some of them smile and chuckle with me, others nod eagerly at me and others seem to be having a difficult time paying attention. I continue: “So if we can just accept that for what it is, we will be able to find more compassion and acceptance for where we are, which leads to a little less suffering.” They’re expecting to start moving or practice some kind of meditation or breath-work, but probably not expecting to have to sit with a statement like that. I laugh because I know this idea to be true in my own life and work. They chuckle probably for a few reasons- they might be thinking: “What is she talking about?” or “Everyone else might be, but I’m not,” or they laugh knowingly because they have encountered their own neuroses and are working on accepting themselves exactly as they are, with varying degrees of success. True healing requires us to pause and seriously consider our own wounding. Yoga is another tool for healing, so I often bring topics like this up in the yoga room as well as in therapy sessions with clients. Neurosis, in this sense, is not as serious or as awful as we might have previously thought, and it certainly does not indicate or point to a life of misery. it simply refers to the conditioning, internal suffering and defense mechanisms most human beings develop as a response to everyday life.
Flooded with images of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction in Houston, Texas, we know that psychological trauma will be an inevitable part of the storm. It is nearly impossible to comprehend the magnitude of pain connected to the grief and loss that the residents of Houston are experiencing. Among some of the most vulnerable victims are children.
A loud noise happens on a crowded street. Many people are startled for a moment and then, after recognizing that it was a car backfiring, they go on with their day. But there is a teenaged girl and a forty-year-old man who are having very different experiences. The loud noise initiated a startle response and then the re-experiencing of vivid memories. These two are transported to entirely different places and times that have become defining characteristics of their lives. They are trauma survivors, one of whom is remembering a gunshot and the other the slamming of a door.
Clients come to the wilderness wounded. Some wounds are obvious and come with overt behaviors that identify them as in need of repair. Some wounds one is not yet even aware of, having lived life a certain skillful way orchestrated to disguise and not feel pain. Often words don’t suffice in the healing of this sort of trauma and deep seeded hurt.
My mind is filled with pleasant recollections of my time spent in Salt Lake in this very unique conference. The atmosphere created by the conference hosts felt alive with learning, I enjoyed going to other’s presentations as much as presenting myself.
Judith Herman, author of Trauma and Recovery wrote; “Recovery can take place only within then context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation. In her renewed connection with other people, the survivor re-creates the psychological facilities that were damaged or deformed by the traumatic experience. These faculties include the basic operations of trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy. Just as these capabilities are formed in relationships with other people, they must be reformed in such relationships. The first principle of recovery is empowerment of the survivor. She must be the author and arbiter of her own recovery. Others may offer advice, support, assistance, affection, and care, but not cure.” These wise and astute statements so vividly describe the experience for an individual entering wilderness therapy at Evoke, particularly one who has experienced trauma and is in the process of recovery.
At the heart of the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) model there is one concept that is found to be a common thread among many, if not most, mental health issues: experiential avoidance. There is a growing base of evidence that experiential avoidance is a factor in the development and maintenance of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse disorders, all of which have a high degree of comorbidity with trauma-based disorders. As regarding the trauma implicated in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) specifically, the DSM-V posits an entire symptom cluster (one of three) of PTSD as revolving around experiential avoidance.
“How could a handstand invite so much emotional upheaval?” I thought as I came down softly, with the help of my instructor, resting and sobbing in Child’s Pose. I was back in another yoga teacher training after breaking my neck only 9 months earlier. I had done so much work healing the body and mind after my near-fatal car accident. My upper body was stronger than it was before the accident. I had gone to a therapist to deal with some of the fear and anxiety I felt from the experience. Had even undergone Rapid Eye Therapy to help “unlock” more subconscious levels of the trauma. But here, in a moment of turning my body upside down which I had done hundreds of times in my life, I was pouring tears like a geyser erupting from somewhere unspeakably deep within me. And my teacher was amazing. He was gentle, present, compassionate. I rested and spoke little the remainder of the day while still being with my peers of the teacher training.