While not all brain injury survivors are also trauma survivors, many of us are. The truth is, it is often difficult to tease out the difference between trauma and brain injury symptoms, because often-times they overlap. The good news is that there is also a lot of overlap in terms of concussion and trauma care.
Just over a year after my accident a friend of mine gifted me a couple of sessions of trauma therapy with a Somatic Experience therapist. I had no idea what it was about, but I trusted my friend. How lucky I was to be introduced to local concussion expert, Amy Lazer!
In our first session, Amy encouraged me to imagine myself at the scene of the accident. I felt my hands on the steering wheel. They were so cold. Frozen. She guided me into opening my fingers very slowly. Right then and there I felt my fingers unfreezing. I felt deep inside me the power of Somatic Experience therapy to release me from the freeze-state I had entered at the time of the accident. That initial taste had me hooked. It was the beginning of what continues to be a long, powerful journey of unravelling and unwinding layers of constriction. I feel so blessed to be digging into this deep healing.
There are many approaches to trauma therapy, but I highly recommend that you seek out somatic (body-based) therapy rather than (or at least in addition to) other kinds of therapy. Our issues are in our tissues, and as this article explains, the best way out of trauma is through the body via somatic work.
The basic idea of somatic trauma therapy, at least as I have experienced it, is that in a traumatic event our bodies go into fight, flight, freeze, or faint (pretending to be dead). This is a wise (brilliant!) move on the part of our bodies in the moment; fleeing, fighting, freezing or feinting in the face of danger keeps us safe. Our bodies automatically choose one of these survival responses when we sense danger, and we let go of these responses once we are safe again.
The problem is that in trauma survivors this normally healthy fight, flight, freeze, or feint response is on the fritz. We get stuck in those survival responses. While the traumatic event may be years in the past, our traumatized bodies are still freezing, fighting, fleeing, or feinting in the face of a now invisible threat. In my case, my body was acting as though I were still in the car crash, still on the surgery table, and still in the lonely incubator.
The beauty of somatic trauma therapy is that it allows our bodies to stop responding to an enemy that is long gone. We discharge trapped trauma energy, and we begin to feel in our bones that we are safe now. We are free. What a relief!
If this topic is of particular interest, I strongly suggest you read the brilliant book by Canadian psychotherapist David Treleavan: Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness. The book, and his website explain key trauma concepts in an accessible way. He invites us to be in choice, and to modify our practice as need be so we can reap the benefits of mindfulness while staying within our window of tolerance.
I had been modifying mindfulness on my own for more than five years when I discovered his work. Reading his book helped give me the bravery I needed to stand up to the wider world and say ‘hey, we really need to be careful about how we introduce mindfulness because if not, there may be serious consequences for concussion survivors.’ Lessons learned from his work were pivotal in deepening my understanding of nervous system regulation (a core component of the Mindful Concussion approach), and helped lead me to the insights found within my Merging Map of Nervous System Concepts.
While trauma-sensitive mindfulness is an essential part of concussion care, often it is not enough. Sometimes we need the boost of support from a trauma professional. They can offer much-needed gentle guidance that will help our rattled nervous systems settle. While trauma therapy may be helpful for many of us concussion survivors, I particularly encourage survivors who are experiencing intense symptoms, such as debilitating depression or extreme anxiety and panic attacks, to seek therapy before diving into mindfulness practices.
When contacting a potential therapist, I suggest that you make sure they utilize one of many somatic approaches. To try out one of those approaches, Somatic Experience therapy, check out this link to find a therapist near you.
My doctor recommended that I try EMDR for trauma. I gave it a good go and it did not work for me, but I have heard that many people have found it hugely helpful. If you would like to find an EMDR therapist, check out this link.
There is more to say about trauma in future posts, but for now, I’d just like to say this: my heart is with you. It is just so hard to deal with the double duo of concussion and trauma. In my case, trauma therapy coupled with mindfulness help me heal deep wounds. As a result, in many ways I am actually healthier than I was before my car accident. I so hope that you too will find some trauma support if you need it.
Kindly and mindfully yours,
Jessie Rain Anne Smith