For a while now I have been convinced that Mindfulness could hold a key to the effective management of post-traumatic stress – in terms of somatic symptoms and in the management of anxiety and panic attacks. There is an obvious correlation between the calming effects of Mindfulness meditation scripts and the need to control the run-away panic caused by extreme anxiety, but also, in the simplest terms, the idea of being grounded in the here and now, or in the present, can create the necessary anchor which can safely enable the ‘front’ brain (Hippocampus) to start to process the trauma into explicit memory which the ‘back’ brain (Amygdala) retains as implicit memory. This is perhaps in the form of somatic awareness (unexplained pain), as well as phobia and panic attacks, and by creating explicit memory of those events, they can be tagged as ‘over’ and the symptoms can cease altogether. Without a way of providing an anchor, there is a danger of re-traumatisation. Dissociation is a more extreme effect of trauma, and perhaps less commonly witnessed, and is the brain’s way of protecting the individual to allow continuing survival following a traumatic event or series of events.
Through some training with PODS ( Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors) I have finally got my head around the parts of the brain which are implicated in trauma memory and in the symptoms so often described by many clients when they talk about seemingly irrational fears – which can go so far as to cause extreme anxiety and phobia. With survivors of violent and/or persistent trauma who go on to develop full blown PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), there have been many theories about the most effective treatment – EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) for example – and there is ample evidence to suggest that this is beneficial to clients presenting with these long term and seriously debilitating effects of trauma. But in terms of the disruption to day to day life by perhaps less persistent symptoms of implicit memory of past events, the use of Mindfulness interventions, within a practice based on a Person Centred theory of autonomy, together with challenges and exploration within a place of safety, respect and confidentiality, can, I believe, be really beneficial. There is evidence that SFBT (Solution Focused Brief Therapy), which I also use as part of my ‘tool box’, has a further useful part to play in the understanding and management of symptoms of anxiety.
Also, with the realisation that Mindfulness can offer such a proven benefit to people affected by Dissociation, which can also be a symptom of PTSD, I have placed my name on the PODS register of therapists who are ‘dissociation-friendly’ and I look forward to offering help to people whose lives are constantly affected by implicit memory of past events.