“Trauma originates as a response in the nervous system, and does not originate in an event.” – Dr. Peter Levine
Trauma and disorders associated with trauma can be defined in different ways. The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) states trauma is an “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence” It specifies that it can occur in one or more of four ways:
(a) directly experiencing the event;
(b) witnessing, in person, the event occurring to others;
(c) learning that such an event happened to a close family member or friend; and
(d) experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of such events, such as with first responders.
The DSM describes clusters of symptoms that may result from exposure to such traumatic events. Initially considered an anxiety disorder, there is now a wide consensus that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and associated stress disorders belong in a category of their own. PTSD was previously used to describe specific responses to concrete events, such as war or torture. It is now generally understood that it can extend beyond this to include responses to sexual and physical assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. Furthermore, while motor vehicle accidents and surgeries may not lead to a diagnosis of PTSD, they can also produce traumatic responses in some people.
The above quote by Peter Levine, developer of the Somatic Experiencing model, rests on an innovative understanding of trauma and on his years of research and clinical experience. Because he argues that trauma lies in the nervous system, not in the event, all kinds of overwhelming experiences can be understood as affecting person’s feelings, thoughts, and capacity to live happy and fulfilled life.
Current research in trauma has found that therapy approaches that include the body and engage different parts of the brain where trauma memories reside are the most successful (Bessel van der Kolk 2006). There has also been research that shows how expressive therapies and meditative practices can be specifically healing for trauma (Talwar 2007). As an art therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner-in-Training, I bring into my work somatic, mindfulness and expressive techniques that unlock your innate capacity to overcome trauma and its paralyzing effects.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
Talwar, S. (2007). Accessing traumatic memory through art making: An art therapy trauma protocol (ATTP). The Arts in Psychotherapy, 34(1), 22-35.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2006). Clinical implications of neuroscience research in PTSD. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1071(1), 277-293.