Developmental trauma

Published 9:50 am Friday, September 23, 2011

Sometimes I’m asked what “Mind Body Connection” means.
I’ve begun to explain it this way: the brain is an organ in our body with its own tasks to perform, just as the rest of our organs do.
The heart pumps blood throughout the body to deliver oxygen to our cells. The stomach and gut absorbs our meals to deliver food to our cells. Our kidneys filter out some of the left over waste after our food is used up … and so on.
The brain’s job is, in very simple terms, three part: to run our automatic systems (heart, lungs and the like), to produce and process our emotions, and to think.
In these terms, the mind is not just “connected” to the body: it is one part of the living body. The thinking part thinks in pictures, in words and in feelings.
The thinking pathways are through the nerves, with which our brains are packed, and which connect to everything else in our bodies. And in some ways, over time, our thinking wears ruts in our neural pathways so the thoughts we produce happen automatically.
Over the 15 plus years I’ve been a practicing therapist, I’ve noticed that what happens very early in our lives affects the neural pathways we use automatically and the way we think automatically for the rest of our lives, for good and for ill, until we become consciously aware of it and are able to change it.
There is extensive literature about the branch of developmental trauma that examines what goes wrong, when it goes wrong – sometimes even before birth, and the long term effects of those events that were traumatic.
Psychotherapy can often help us make the changes we want to make, from more straightforward problems such as being able to pass trucks on a winding highway without anxiety or panic, to more complicated problems such as learning how to trust our own good judgment about other people in our lives and in our close relationships.
Just one intervention that I and my clients find very useful is guided imagery using pictures, words and physical feelings in order to experience sensations of safety and comfort in the body.
Then we can connect the new positive sensations to the old problems and difficulties, changing them by eliminating the fear, anger and/or sadness that we felt.
There are many other ways of changing the negative pathways in our brain. Most of the time people I work with find this kind of approach, when it’s appropriate, is very subtle, bringing about desired changes without great effort or angst.
Best of all, the changes last over time because the brain has learned to use new neural pathways that lead to positive emotions, thoughts and feelings.

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