My approach to the treatment of trauma is dedicated to helping you create safety and stability, develop internal and external resources, transform your relationship to past trauma, promote mind-body-emotion regulation and integration, and create the conditions for optimal personal and relational health and well-being.
Trauma is a unique personal experience of a negative or traumatic situation, recent or from the distant past, that threatens the personal or emotional integrity of oneself or another. It includes the early attachment and later relational traumas of neglect and abuse of our feelings, needs, bodies, and safety. Trauma is any event or enduring circumstance that is markedly distressing and overwhelms our ability to cope with a perceived threat to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well being. Trauma is a normal response to an abnormal situation.
“Traumatic injury occurs when a person is overwhelmed by an event, series of events, or set of enduring conditions that are subjectively perceived to be life threatening, leaving the individual feeling overwhelmed, helpless and out of control… The perceived threat can be associated with an acute event such as surgery, rape, accidents, abuse, disaster, war, horror, etc., or with a chronic situation in which the person is overwhelmed, such as ongoing emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from a family member. The natural reaction when one is threatened is to attempt to escape from threat or to defend against it, but unfortunately, survival responses such as these are often unavailable or are inhibited in survivors of trauma.”
When faced with threatening circumstances, we are hard-wired to draw upon the most effective survival strategy available in the moment – fight, flight, freeze, submit, or attach.
“On the biological level, success doesn't mean winning, it means surviving, and it doesn't really matter how you get there. The object is to stay alive until the danger is past and deal with the consequences later.”
“Each component of the ordinary response to danger, having lost its utility, tends to persist in an altered and exaggerated state long after the actual danger is over.”
Because each of us responds differently to the perception of physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual threat, we can have a traumatic response to not only large traumas, but also to every-day challenges that trigger physical and emotional dysregulaton. Trauma is determined not by the event that caused it, but by the symptoms we experience. Transformation of trauma not only resolves the symptoms, but also increases the power and resources of health and well being.
“Individual implicit memories of how our own bodies once attempted to cope with the threat of being overwhelmed remain. The legacy of trauma is that these somatic (i.e., endocrine and motoric) patterns can be triggered by the slightest provocations, reactivating the physical response of the organism to past terror, abandonment, and helplessness.”
“Post traumatic symptoms are, fundamentally, incomplete physiological responses suspended in fear. Reactions to life-threatening situations remain symptomatic until they are completed.”
For those of us who have survived the every-day personal and relational traumas, as well as larger traumatic experiences, internal and external cues can easily trigger distressing emotions, sensations, and memories. Once triggered, without safety, tools, and guidance, we can react, further dissociate from the evoked symptoms, or encapsulate the unresolved trauma, and miss the opportunity for transformation of the symptoms and the potential for resolution and healing. Instead, when traumatic memory is activated, there is an opportunity – with support – to work with, discharge, and integrate the traumatic imprints into a greater experience of stability and well being.
Are there losses and hardship and pain in life? Yes. Is that a problem? No. Suffering is optional. There is another way.
“We all have an innate ability to transform trauma… We are instinctually hard-wired to digest trauma and return to a state of body-mind integration, emotional-regulation, balance and well-being. In the wild, animals who are routinely exposed to life threatening situations avoid traumatization as they shake out and pass through the fight-flight-freeze response and become fully mobile and functional again.”
Transformation of trauma is much like alchemy – the transmutation of base metals into gold. Martial artists are trained to access and transform the energy of aggression into the energy of action in service of resolution and harmony. There are countless stories from around the world of those who have journeyed through and transformed repeated injury, disability, disaster, violence, and great loss, into wisdom, compassion, service, and well-being in the midst of it all. Same pain and loss. Different response and relationship to the trauma. There is a way through the aftermath of trauma…
If traumatic memory is worked with directly, it can contribute to re-living the trauma and further destabilization. Instead, the focus of recovery is on helping you create safety and stability, develop internal and external resources, transform your relationship to past trauma, promote mind-body-emotion regulation and integration, and create the conditions for optimal personal and relational health and well-being.
There are three stages of trauma recovery:
Stage 1: Safety and Stabilization: Overcoming Dysregulation
Coming to Terms with Traumatic Memories
Integration and Moving On
While the transformation of trauma is best supported by a therapist trained in the treatment of trauma, the true guide for this journey is your self, the traveler whose discriminating awareness, choice, and deepest wisdom can begin to navigate through that which is no longer present, no longer serves, and is no longer true. The traces of big and small trauma that remain in your nervous system and mind can be released, freeing a new relationship with your self and your life.
In our work together, I help you to cultivate mindful exploration in which you develop the capacity to be present to your moment-to-moment experience, with awareness and choice, so that you work at a level of exploration and pacing that enables you to remain safe and stable in the session and in your life. Working together with you as a team, I support you in working within your optimal “window of tolerance” that supports your ability to process and integrate your past experience.
“Under conditions of arousal that are either too high or too low, traumatic experiences cannot be integrated… In order to put the past in the past, traumatic experience must be processed in an ‘optimal arousal zone'. Falling between the two extremes of hyper-arousal (increased sensation, emotional reactivity, hypervigilance) and, hypo-arousal (absence of sensation and emotion, numbing) is the zone described as the ‘window of tolerance'. When you work within a window of tolerance, information received from both internal and external environments can be integrated. You are able to think and talk about your experience in therapy and simultaneously feel a congruent emotional tone and sense of self.”
“Our brains will continue to take in new information and construct new realities as long as our bodies feel safe.”
“For each of us, the mastery of trauma is a heroic journey that will have moments of creative brilliance, profound learning, and periods of hard tedious work. It is the process of finding ourselves a safe and gentle way of coming out of immobility without being overwhelmed. Parts of it may occur in a condensed event. Others are more open-ended, occurring gradually over time.”
As you develop an increasing capacity for mindfulness – a quality of awareness that notices, without judgment, the emerging moment by moment experience – I help you to gradually uncouple the traumatic activation from the adaptive responses. The mind and body can unwind the defensive responses that were disabled in the past, that can finally be completed and restored for adaptive use in the present. We take one small step at a time.
The transformation of life trauma begins as new skills are developed to remain present and stable in the moment, to study the trauma-related tendencies, and to resolve the effects of the traumatic past on your current organization of experience. We work together to help overcome the fear of traumatic memories so you don't become stuck in avoidance or overwhelmed by the memories or flashbacks. You can begin to come to terms with the truaumatic past.
Traumatic memory imprints our brain and nervous system at multiple levels – thoughts, feelings, sensory experience, movement, and inner body awareness. All three levels of processing –cognitive, emotional, and sensorimotor – are necessary to work with the implicit memories and the neurobiological effects of trauma. Working collaboratively, you and I gradually and gently approach the energy bound up in these imprints with “dual awareness” – rooted both in the safety and stability of the present, as well as witnessing and releasing the traumatic traces of the past.
“Discernment is a form of dis-identification from the activity of our own mind: as you become aware of sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts, you come to see these activities of the mind as waves at the surface of the mental sea. From this deeper place within your mind, this internal space of mindful awareness, you can just notice the brain waves at the surface as they come and go. This capacity to disentangle oneself from the chatter of the mind, to discern that these are “just activities of the mind,” is liberating and for many, revolutionary. At its essence, this discernment is how mindfulness may help alleviate suffering.”
The mind-body inherently organizes in the direction of what is needed for optimal resolution of the past, and optimal functioning in the present. As the past falls away, new more adaptive capacities emerge that are then anchored in an expanded sense of self that is more flexible, adaptive and stable with a greater capacity to experience positive states, inner calm, and pleasure. The trauma is left in the past and you can finally move on.
“The fragmented elements that perpetuate traumatic emotion and behavior can be completed, integrated, and made whole again. Along with this wholeness comes a sense of mastery and resolution.”
“Integration is at the heart of well-being. Integration is the linking of differentiated elements into a functional whole… our lives become flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized and stable. Without this integration, the flow of our minds moves toward rigidity or chaos. Trauma can be seen to fundamentally impair integration of the individual, family, or community. Post-traumatic states are
“Looking deeply gives us the insight that will liberate us from suffering, anger, pain, despair. Suffering can instruct us. Understanding suffering is the key to transcending it. Without suffering there is no way to understand compassion. No mud – No lotus!”
”That is a revolutionary step. Becoming intimate with pain is the key to changing at the core of our being – staying open to everything we experience, letting the sharpness of difficult times pierce us to the heart, letting these times open us, humble us, and make us wiser and more brave. Let difficulty transform you. And it will. In my experience, we just need help in learning how not to run away.”
In addition to a diverse clinical background, I utilize two approaches widely recognized by leaders in the treatment of trauma for their effectiveness in processing the mind-body imprints of early attachment, relational, chronic and acute traumatic experience: Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and EMDR.
EMDR is an information processing therapy that attends to the past experiences that contribute to distress, the current situations that trigger distressing emotions, beliefs and sensations, and the positive experience needed to enhance future adaptive behaviors and well being. One aspect of the information re-processing involves "dual stimulation" using either bilateral eye movements, tones or taps. During the reprocessing phases, the client attends momentarily to past memories, present triggers, or anticipated future experiences while simultaneously focusing on a set of external bi-lateral movements. During that time, clients generally experience the emergence of insight, changes in memories, or new associations.
EMDR was determined to be an effective treatment of trauma by the American Psychiatric Association in their Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Acute Stress Disorder and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. EMDR was also strongly recommended for the treatment of trauma by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense in their Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Post-Traumatic Stress.
“Cognitive Processing refers to the capacity for conceptualizing, reasoning, meaning making, problem solving, and decision making. Difficulty in cognitive processing occurs because traumatized people typically form inflexible, maladaptive interpretations of the trauma or other life experience.
Emotional Processing refers to the capacity to experience, describe, express, and integrate affective states. Traumatized people characteristically lose the capacity to draw upon emotions as guides for action. They relive the emotional tenor of previous traumatic experiences, finding themselves at the mercy of intense trauma-related emotions. These emotions can lead to impulsive, ineffective, conflicting, and irrational actions, such as lashing out physically or verbally, or feeling helpless, frozen, and numb. Traumatized individuals are often fixated on trauma-related emotions of grief, fear, terror, or anger.
Sensorimotor Processing refers to the capacity to experience, articulate, and integrate physical/sensory perception, body sensation, physiological arousal (hypo- and hyper-arousal), and motor functioning (movement and action). People with trauma-related disorders suffer from both “feeling too much” and “feeling too little”. The capacity to sense and describe your in-the-moment sensation and to uncouple it from trauma-related emotions and cognitions enhances the possibility of re-integrating the somatic experience of trauma in order to establish new meanings and understand the past and one self.”
The following description of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is written by Janina Fisher Ph.D. and is taken from the “Forward” in the Becoming Safely Embodied Skills Manual: Skills Building Groups for Trauma and Dissociation, by Dierdre Fay MSW:
“Traumatic experience affects not only our minds, emotions, and systems of belief, but also the body. At the moment of life threat, “animal brain” instincts take precedence over reflective decision-making, allowing us to run, duck for cover, hide, fight back, or “huddle and wait for it to be over” – whatever best helps us to survive. Decades after the mind knows that we are safe, the body still responds as if it were under life threat. Triggered by everyday normal life stimuli directly or indirectly reminiscent of the trauma, the same bodily responses are instinctively re-activated that originally helped us to survive. What was once an adaptive survival response has now become a symptom. The body that used its animal brain instincts to negotiate a dangerous world now feels like an enemy, rather than an ally. It is ironic that the very same responses that preserve our physical and psychological integrity under threat also drive the symptoms of post-traumatic stress for months or years after the events themselves (van der Kolk et al, 1997; Ogden, Minton & Pain, 2006). To make matters more challenging, the survivor of trauma is left with a mind and body that now function better under conditions of threat than conditions of calm, peacefulness, or pleasure.
“In traditional psychotherapy models, it has always been assumed that, as a consequence of re-telling the story and re-experiencing the feelings connected to what happened, these trauma responses would remit naturally on their own. Clinical experience and recent neurobiological research tell a different story: the human mind and nervous system will always have a tendency to respond to a reminder of past threat as if it too were a threat unless the brain's frontal cortex is “on line” and therefore able to discriminate a real threat from the reminder.
“To actually desensitize or transform a traumatic memory, we need to change the mind-body responses to that memory: to reinstate activity in the frontal lobes so we can interpret the responses differently or react to them differently. We need to counteract the habitual responses by calling attention to them, providing psychoeducation about how and why they are symptoms, encouraging mindfulness and curiosity in place of reactivity, pacing the exploration of the past so that the autonomic nervous system can be better regulated instead of dysregulated by the recovery process, and by encouraging the developing of new responses to triggers or memories that compete with the old habitual responses. We need to challenge the subjective perception of traumatized (individuals) that the symptoms are just “who they are.”
“…The model takes the essential ingredients of a trauma recovery program and breaks them down into small, achievable steps. Practice in mindful observation is needed, for instance, to challenge the automatic unthinking instinctual responses to traumatic triggers… Cultivating the ability to step back from overwhelming experience to study its components (thoughts, feelings and body sensations) is essential to the skill of modulating autonomic activation. Identifying facts versus feelings and learning how to be “present in the present” help cultivate past-present differentiation. Without the ability to make those discriminations, (survivors) continue to feel a sense of unending subjection to threat for decades after the traumatic events are over. Finally, learning to deliberately choose new responses or deliberately change one's perspective challenges beliefs that nothing will ever change, that the survivor is helpless in the face of the intense activation, overwhelming emotions, and beliefs that she is damaged and defective… allowing access to another world of possibilities.”
~ Janina Fisher Ph.D., from the Forward in Becoming Safely Embodied.
Your journey through the transformation of life trauma draws upon supportive conditions, practical transformative tools, and mind-body practices as you develop core capacities that include:
1. Mindful Awareness
Develop a neutral witnessing of body sensations, emotions, and thoughts, in a calm, non-judging, spacious awareness.
Learn to approach the here-and-now experience with curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love. (Daniel Siegel M.D.)
Cultivate a self-observing state, increased body-mind awareness, and a sense of well-being independent of life circumstances.
Develop an internal and external safe and secure base, as well as self-care and stabilization practices, as a ground for the exploration and transformation of traumatic memory.
Use mindful awareness of sensations, feelings, and memory as a way to loosen the self-identity defined by the trauma and achieve more emotional freedom.
2. Emotional Regulation: Self-regulation & Interpersonal-regulation
Learn to use self-reflection, stabilization and self care practices to create the physical and emotional conditions for personal and interpersonal safety.
Learn to recognize the early signs of becoming physically and emotionally hyper- or hypo-aroused, and choose to return your “optimal arousal zone”.
Build practical skills to manage anxiety, contain emotional reactivity, identify and create external and internal boundaries, and stay present in the moment, without dissociating or being reactive.
Develop authentic connection in order to practice self-regulation, interpersonal attunement, and emotional co-regulation.
Learn to recognize and develop internal and external resources.
3. Processing & Integration
Recognize and relate with traumatic memory in a safe collaborative environment, and at a pace that is manageable, in order for it to be acknowledged, discharged, transformed, and integrated.
Explore the relationship between earlier traumatic experiences and current triggers, including distinguishing between past and present threat, and choosing adaptive responses in the present.
Place the traumatic event(s) in perspective, in order to understand that remembering the trauma is not the same as experiencing it again.
4. Earned Secure Attachment
“There are nine functions that support personal and relational well-being: the first seven are the outcomes of secure attachment, and all nine functions are the outcome of mindful awareness practice.
Body Regulation : capacity to attend to bodily states, as well as coordinate and balance the “brakes” and “accelerator” of the nervous system.
Attuned Communication (emotional attunement): capacity to coordinate the input from another mind with the activity of one's own.
Emotional Balance : capacity to monitor and affect the emotional response to fight-flight-freeze.
Response Flexibility : capacity to pause before action.
Empathy : capacity to perceive another's signals and imagine what might be going on inside someone else.
Self-knowing Awareness : capacity to link the past, present, and future and give emotional texture to the emerging themes of your present awareness and life story.
Fear Modulation : capacity to calm down, breathe, and let go.
Intuition : capacity to keep the channel open to information from the intestine and the heart that have “peripheral brains,” as well as from every cell in your body.
Morality : capacity to imagine what is best for the whole not just oneself, even when alone.”
~ Daniel Siegel M.D., The Mindful Brain
5. Personal and Interpersonal Well-being Independent of Life Circumstances
Stability and inner calm: …the surface processes of chaos and rigidity, of dys-regulation and defensive exclusion of lived experience, can melt away as they are recognized as habits of mind, equanimity can be created, and true transformation can begin. ~ Daniel Siegel M.D.
True happiness: …an enduring feeling of contentment, capability and centeredness... It's a rich sense of well-being that comes from knowing you can deal productively and creatively with all that life offers – both the good and the bad. And it's a deep sense of engagement – living in the moment and enjoying life's bounty. ~ Rick Foster & Greg Hicks, How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People
Well-being of body, mind, and relationship: … the capacity to be flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable, with connection, openness, healing, empathy, receptivity, resonance, engagement, deep knowing, compassion, and an emerging sense of freshness. ~ Daniel Siegel M.D.
The process of transforming trauma can be seen as a series of transitional realities known in Tibetan Buddhism as bardos . The word “ bardo ” is commonly used to denote the intermediate state between death and rebirth. A bardo can also be seen as a space between realms – the gap of sleep, phases of life, between thoughts, between breaths, or other transitional realities.
“In reality bardos are occurring continuously throughout both life and death, and are junctures when the possibility of liberation, or enlightenment, is heightened… Certain moments are much more powerful than others and much more charged with potential, when whatever you do has a crucial and far-reaching effect.”
The natural bardo of this life as we know it and preparing for the death of an old way that no longer serves us.
The painful bardo of letting go and dying to the old ways of being.
After death, the luminous bardo of seeing clearly the essence of things as they are.
The bardo of becoming, in which the mind is no longer limited and obstructed, and the possibilities are infinite for emerging in a new form.
Each person's unique transformational process of healing involves a death of the old way of being, and emerging into a new relationship with oneself, with others, and with one's life. The ancient teachings say that we wait in the bardo until we can make a connection to our future form, in the same way that we remain frozen with past trauma until we begin to sense the possibility of transforming it into a larger perspective of our selves and our life.
“Transformation requires change. One of the things that must change is the relationship that we have with our memories.”
“Coming out of isolation and separation is, in and of itself, healing. One of the most inspiring parts of group sessions is being part of a larger emerging wisdom. When people practice with others who have similar backgrounds, they discover they are not alone. They experience kinship. Over the duration of the group, participants learn from each other, and contribute to each other through both their struggles and their triumphs. And by holding strong common intentions, the group becomes a community of support and authentic inquiry.”
Trauma arises from your unique experience of an event or enduring circumstance that is markedly distressing and overwhelms your ability to cope with a perceived threat to your physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual well being. The traces of big and small trauma that remain in your nervous system and mind can be released, freeing a new relationship with your self and your life.Transformation Groups focus on the development of new capacities to transform past traumatic experience. Because revealing much of one's “story” can trigger yourself or others, this group's focus is not on talking about our history. Instead, the group is dedicated to helping you develop the awareness and practical skills to create safety, stability, and support; develop internal and external resources; transform your relationship to past trauma; promote mind-body-emotion regulation and integration; and create the conditions for optimal personal and relational health and well-being. This group may be a valuable adjunct to individual therapy or a first step toward exploring your relationship with your past.
I strive to create a safe, peaceful, and fun group environment that supports stability and well being during the group and in your life. Each week will draw upon practical tools of mindful awareness, self inquiry, mind-body awareness, conscious boundaries, and empowered choice to allow you to safely enter your internal world; begin to transform your mind and body into safe places for rest, reflection, and well being; and, take steps toward the life you want to live…
Week 1: Setting the Foundation
Week 2: Belonging
Week 3: Mindful Awareness
Week 4: Internal Information Flow: Thoughts/Feelings/Body Sensations
Week 5: Separating Facts from Feelings
Week 6: Addressing Parallel Lives
Week 7: Working with Internal Parts
Week 8: Carving Out a New Path
Week 9: Telling & Retelling
Week 10: Finding Guidance from an Older, Wiser Self
Week 11: Conscious Closure
Fee: $440. Insurance accepted, including Blue Cross, Aetna , Health Net, and Humana.
Cancellation Policy: Refund up to first session, credit thereafter.
Visit the Trauma Healing Resources section
Your guide for this journey of transformation of trauma is a seasoned explorer. Like all of us, I have traveled through unbearable sorrows and pain and loss that come with taking birth in a human body with a human heart. My journey is any man's or woman's journey – some of us just seem to get dealt a bit more than others. I have found the guides when I needed them and, out of necessity, learned to harness inner and outer resources to take me through the transformational fires again and again to the other side.
The fact of the matter is there is pain in life.
I bow before you with the honor of being a travel guide along your journey of transforming past trauma and healing into your inherent wholeness.
For everything under the sun there is a time.
Only to the extent that you expose yourself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within you. In this lies the dignity of daring. Thus the aim of practice is not to develop an attitude which allows you to acquire a state of harmony and peace wherein nothing can bother you. On the contrary, practice should teach you to let yourself be assaulted, perturbed, moved, insulted, broken and battered – that is to say, it should enable you to dare to let go of your futile hankering for harmony, surcease from pain, and a comfortable life in order that you may discover, in doing battle with the forces that oppose you, that which awaits you beyond the world of opposites. Only if we venture repeatedly through zones of annihilation, can our contact with Divine Being, which is beyond annihilation, become firm and stable. The more you learn wholeheartedly to confront the world that threatens you with isolation, the more are the depths of the Ground of Being revealed and the possibilities of new life and Becoming opened.
I've come to understand that healing doesn't mean that our pain and suffering go away. Healing is learning to live in a different relationship with our pain and suffering so it does not control us.
It is in the small things we see it.
A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot
Eventually the chickpea
The cook says,
When the light around you lessens
When you find yourself bereft
Steady yourself and see
Search and you will find
Invoke the learning
A new confidence will come alive
Those who will not slip beneath
~ Author Unknown ~