The New York Times Magazine recently published a thought-provoking article in its health issue called, “How Do You Heal a Traumatized Mind? A Revolutionary Approach to Treating PTSD.” While most trauma therapists swear by the two most clinically approved and widely employed techniques in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy, Dutch psychiatrist, Bessel van der Kolk, challenges the norm.
Van der Kolk reasons that the most helpful therapies to heal patients suffering from PTSD are not emotional or behavioral, but instead physiological. Van der Kolk calls the patient’s act of remembering a traumatic event, “reactivation,” because the body sends the individual back into fight-or-flight mode. The majority of PTSD patients desire to numb this “reactivation” of pain by “dissociating” in the short-term, and self-numbing (food, exercise, work, alcohol, etc.) in the long-term. While most therapists would normally focus on the mind and how it relates to the traumatic incident, van der Kolk’s techniques shift that focus to the body.
To treat the disconnect between memories and the body’s reaction to them, van der Kolk suggests techniques that give attention to the way the body functions, like yoga, the Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping), or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (E.M.D.R). With a therapist’s guidance, patients use Emotional Freedom Technique by tapping various acupressure points with their own fingertips while reciting positive phrases. By physiologically tuning into the problem, tapping can calm the sympathetic nervous system and prevent the patient from entering fight-or-flight mode. For patients with isolated traumatic memories, van der Kolk also recommends E.M.D.R., in which “a therapist wiggles fingers back and forth across the patient’s field of vision and the patient tracks the fingers while “holding in mind” the traumatic memory. Van der Kolk now uses this technique routinely because it helps patients process their traumas; the goal is for the negative experience to transform from an existing paranoia into a distant memory. Now, more than 60,000 therapists around the world are certified in E.M.D.R., and van der Kolk calls the therapy a godsend.
Ultimately, the NY Times article draws attention to therapists, like van der Kolk, who practice methods that may improve symptoms in a wider variety of traumatized patients. Even with therapy, however, emotional illness can lead to disability and an inability to work. We are here to help. At Bonny G. Rafel, LLC we advocate for patients with disabling conditions. Contact us for a consultation if PTSD, or any other psychological problem, has inhibited your ability to work. We may be able to assist you in getting the benefits you deserve.
By: Hannah Silverman