The pros and cons of talk therapy
Talk therapy can be helpful because can be temporarily comforting to talk about what you’ve been through and have someone hear it and actively listen to your story. We all need support and empathy in our lives, and a therapist can bridge the missing gap of support and listening that we need. And it is effective for many conditions, but less so for post traumatic stress or trauma-related disorders.
Why is talk therapy less effective for trauma? Talk therapy may not in fact give you the treatment you seek – because when you tell your story, it’s like ruminating, repeating, and feeling stuck. You may leave feeling like you were heard for your pain, but your experience does not go away from talking about it. This is because your body remembers and keeps on remembering. Talk therapy does not let your body move on. So, your trauma-related symptoms remain.
In contrast, in trauma therapy, we work on your body response and help it to learn to reprocess and change your physical reactions. Your painful story can show up in your body through related memories or events. Trauma therapy focuses on your body response, not your story. This is where a body-based therapy such as EMDR or Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) excels – because these therapies rewires your body’s reaction to these kinds of situations. It gets to your physical response through your nervous system.
Your nervous system is what creates the fight, flight, or freeze response. From my previous blog, I mentioned that you respond strongly because your brain immediately signals you that you are unsafe or being threatened. And you can respond so fast before there is any thinking on your part, because these responses activate the primitive part of our brains that bypasses our ability to rationally think.
What we do is rewire your expectations. Through EMDR, ART, Somatic Experiencing and other body-based therapies, your body learns to become calmer, and change the emotions and feelings that come up. When we calm your body, we also can extinguish the messages you have from old experiences that say “It’s not safe!”. These bad feelings – such as uncertainty, insecurity, fear, unease, and many more – are replaced with feelings such as confidence, certainty, ease and comfort.
How Trauma recovery works: ice-cream headache example
Most people have experienced a “brain freeze” or “ice-cream headache” as a kid or an adult. It happens when you get that annoying headache from eating something cold like ice-cream too fast. In Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), learning how to respond to trauma is something like how you may work through your headache. Generally, most people wouldn’t become overwhelmed or fall into a shame spiral over a brief attack of sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, changing the temperature of the roof of your mouth or back of your throat, and constricting the blood vessels in your head. Ouch! Instead you may say, “Dang it! I thought I was being careful. I know what this is, it’s the ice-cream. Ugggh! I ate it too fast. Okay, I know it will go away. I know it will pass because it always does. It’s just brain freeze. Wait. Breathe. It’s going away – no problem.”
So, you know with confidence that your headache will go away because it’s just a physical reaction in your body. There’s nothing to be alarmed about. It’s just an ice cream headache. Maybe if it’s a really painful headache you need to breathe through it. You can focus on tactical breathing. Count to four as you inhale. Hold your breath for a four count. Breathe out for a count of four, hold again for four and repeat. You do this for, let’s say two minutes, and you notice that all those strong feelings just dissipate.
Now think of your trauma reaction or triggering as if it’s like an ice cream headache. You’ve learned that it’s not overwhelming and it will go away. You know you can handle the discomfort. You have learned, when you experience a body-based therapy like ART, or trauma informed yoga, what it’s like to be calm through stress. You have learned to see your body get triggered and react to something from a past trauma — and you have learned to feel safe and feel calm as you experience your body’s physical reaction. Your reactions become less intense and even completely muted. You learn to become calm because you now know, like that ice-cream headache, the momentary triggering will pass. Your confidence builds and, with it, your fear-based reactions are erased. Your brain and nervous system create a new way to respond.
If you are interested in a new, rapid method for trauma recovery, please contact me for a free consultation appointment and I can explain further, or set up a first appointment to see if Accelerated Response Therapy (ART) will work for you—which I am confident you will see new results.