To demystify trauma we must note that it is an event that overwhelms our normal defense responses. What makes trauma so “mysterious” is that previously we did not understand the biological structure of these responses. Now that we do, we have more powerful treatment options.
Furthermore, the idea of “overwhelm” is important. When we were very little, events that would be trivial to an adult can overwhelm the fetus or infant: e.g., simple pain, alone-ness, rejection, etc. So, “traumas” can be very ordinary events, and everybody has them.
“Overwhelm” is essentially an information issue. Things happen too fast. There is too much information to process. Our response mechanisms get overloaded. They freeze. The treatment is to un-freeze them.
These frozen responses persist into adulthood and form a framework for interpreting the world. We have them in common with other mammals. (See Waking theTiger, by Peter A. Levine.) As frozen, physiological imprints, they must be treated physiologically.
So, somatic process is the key to this new method. That is, start with noticing what is going in on your body. This is a physiological noticing: “warmth”, “tightness in my diaphragm”, “a tingling”. . . When you notice these sensation, they “move”. You just follow them wherever they lead. The result is an increased sense of presence in one’s body and in the world.
The background issue is which resources to use when working with unconscious material. If we think in terms of five kinds of resources:
the five sensory instruments
then working with cognition would be working from “above”, and working with sensation would be working from “below”. Historically, earlier methods in psychotherapy work from “above”, while recently developed “sensori-motor” methods work from “below” We note that emotions have two components: one mental, one physiological. We train ourselves to pay less attention to the mental part and focus on the somatic.
Slowing down the clock, small pieces.
The basic tactic is to “slow down the clock.” Simply remembering a traumatic event can trigger re-enactment of the whole episode. We want to avoid re-enactment.
The key is to focus on a piece of the memory that is small enough to recall without dissociating. We call this “titration”, a term from chemistry which means adding one volatile element to another in very small amounts, to prevent their explosion.
In trauma treatment, past events need to be approached from a certain distance, as it were, and the time-sequence slowed down. We can recall past events in extreme “slow motion”. At this pace, we can identify components of events that went unnoticed because things happened too fast. Since every piece of the memory contains all the elements that contributed to it, the recall of a very small piece can unfreeze healthy responses.
Our comment is, “We can access anything as long we go slowly enough.”