(by Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP)
June is PTSD awareness month. So it seems reasonable to stop and reflect on trauma, its effects on people and how we help people overcome trauma. Frankly, I could write for a long time and it would only begin to cover everything. So let me make this a bit more personal. I have had more than a few run-ins with trauma. And, as things go I have been fortunate.
At age 15, I was walking home late at night when a car came screaming around the corner and almost hit me. I did what any red-blooded American boy would do. You know the gesture, don’t you? The car came to a screeching halt and a guy jumped out with a crow bar. I was so stunned that I froze. He moved to beat me with it. Luckily I jumped out of the way and he only hit my jacket, which was blowing in the wind behind me. I am certain that if he had struck me I would have been paralyzed.
At 18, a few weeks after the Yom Kippur war, I was hiking with seven other American kids in a tunnel that brought water into the old city of Jerusalem. We were attacked by a group of Palestinian teenagers, and I was almost struck in the head with a giant rock. Fortunately, a Palestinian man in his twenties intervened and we all escaped with no harm – but it could have been an international incident.
The bottom line is that when I work with patients who have suffered trauma, I am usually aware of the thought, “there but for the grace of God go I”.
There are a number of techniques within energy psychology (EP) and outside of EP that are very effective at treating trauma. What I want to focus on here is the importance of slowing down, being with the client and sifting through the tendrils of pain and negativity that traumatic events can wrap around and through the psyche. In many cases, the client is not even aware that they are there. All they know is that they are very upset. The experience I often have is something akin to tenderly untangling a very delicate gold chain.
A traumatic event or PTSD is not a single thing. Let me repeat that. A traumatic event or PTSD is not a single thing. The problem that many clients and therapists have is that they treat the event as if it were a single undividable thing when in fact it is made up of many different parts. In EFT this is referred to as aspects. But I knew this long before I ever knew EFT. I learned this as part of my training in Ericksonian psychotherapy and I have talked and written about it for years.
Our job as healers is to help dissolve the energy or negative effects of all aspects of the traumatic event. Beyond the technique involved in doing this, we need to stay present, calm and compassionate (remember, there but for the grace of God go I) and attend to hints and clues that our patients give us. By doing this, our own nervous system helps to co-regulate the client’s (see the blog on polyvagal theory, “When it Comes to Trauma and EP – Do you know the magic words?”). It also leads us to the pain that is influencing the client.
Let me give a brief example. A client came to see me the other day with pain from a car crash. He reported that he did not think he had much upset when he thought about the accident, “perhaps a little” he said. We started to do the EFT tell-the-story technique. As soon as he did this, he became very upset. We handled that with tearless trauma, and then we went back into the story. The first thing he worked on was the “sound of metal crunching”. Later we focused on him turning around to see his children and “seeing the glass breaking”, and then we worked on the thought that “maybe his children were going to die and he was helpless to stop it”. You get the picture.
Yes there is tapping on meridian points, but what I want to focus on here is my awareness of “there but for the grace of God go I” and the care and compassion involved in helping this man go through all of these very painful moments within the so-called singe traumatic event. Our job as therapists is to help deconstruct these events and root out all of the pain that stays stuck in the nervous/energy system.
Like me, he was very fortunate; nothing bad happened to his children. By the end of our session he could describe the entire event without becoming agitated, and his physical pain decreased.
All of us have had our brushes with trauma – some far more than others. Let’s be aware that trauma and its effects still deeply influence millions of people in the world. Let’s continue to heal our own wounds. Let’s continue to be agents of healing and transformation who stand compassionately and bravely in the face of the aftermath of these events. Let’s continue to be willing to go into the nooks and crannies of the bodymind and heal the remnants of traumatic incidents that cause so much suffering.
Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP
Author, Tools for Transforming Trauma
ACEP Executive Director