July, 2011

WHAT IS THE GOAL OF SYSTEMICALLY ORIENTED TRAUMA WORK ?

In a sense, my systemic approach to understanding and resolving trauma is as much a world view, as a method. Those who follow this path will find themselves at some distance from professionals who confine their interest in trauma to medicine, cognitive therapies and attempts to regulate the individual nervous system through any number of pseudo-scientific, quick fix protocols. These symptom oriented mind sets have also given rise to a variety of techniques for behavior modification, exposure therapy and psycho-pharmaceutical interventions.
Most recently, a great deal of time and money has been invested on a search for a vaccine for trauma !
I have come to understand that encouraging or even insisting that overwhelmed people re-live their experiences and talk about their painful feelings is counter-productive and this approach runs the risk of generating ongoing cycles of re-traumatization. It is important to never do anything to overwhelm an already overwhelmed individual, family, community or other social system. Our primary task is to find existing and potential resources and ways to establish contact; to restore some sense of connection to self and others and to move in the direction of balance.
There are still those who believe that shock and trauma states are only in the mind, but the reality is that there is a strong somatic component as well. Very simple, gentle, somatic interventions based on easily transmitted concepts can provide much needed first aid in acute and chronic situations. Most important is to not rush into doing something, and practicing some technique before one even has a clear idea of who you are working with and what is really going on. The current fad for mass marketed protocols for treating the symptoms of trauma serve to perpetuate the mechanistic and outdated Cartesian illusion that human beings are biological machines in need of fixing when they are out of balance. This atomistic and seriously disconnected view of human suffering has little to offer a soulĀ“s need for wholeness and careful re-connection to self, others and the greater environmental matrix. The need for wholeness involves a need to be seen as a whole person, and integral part of a family, clan and larger systems, not just a collection of symptoms.

The first rule of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else. If one can accept this then a systemic approach to understanding and resolving trauma has much to offer. From my perspective, the essential goal of trauma work is to find ways to expand to include and then become larger than whatever has happened to us. It has been my experience that trauma is not something that can fixed or that one can ever completely get over. Overwhelming life experiences are integral to who we are and who we will become. In the natural world, for example, one can read the life history of a tree according to the pattern of its rings or find a map in the shell of an oyster which tells the story of its life and relationship to the sea. I believe that we are rather like tree rings and shell patterns in that what happens to us leaves a permanent record. The goal of trauma work, therefore, is not to erase or cure. If one thinks of resolving rather than eliminating trauma then there is the possibility of bring the human organism, in all of its dimensions, back into a state of relative balance and resiliency.

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