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July 29, 2019 12:00 am

Most people who seek psychiatric care have histories of trauma, chaos, or neglect. The past two decades have seen an explosion of knowledge about how experience shapes the brain and the formation of the self. This evolving science has had profound implications for our understanding of what constitutes effective intervention. Sadly, most of the knowledge about how trauma affects the brain and the development of the entire human organism remains to find its way into the curricula of professional schools.

Advances in the neurosciences, attachment research, and information processing show how brain function is shaped by experience and that life itself can continually transform perception and biology. The memory imprints of trauma(s) are held in physical sensations, bodily states, and habitual action patterns. This causes the entire human organism to continuously react to current experiences as a replay of the past.

The earliest form of trauma treatment was to tell other people the story of what had happened and to find support and validation. However, validation, insight, and understanding are rarely enough to deal with unspeakable, intolerable, and unacceptable traumatic experience. Trauma causes people to remain trapped in the past by leaving deep, ongoing imprints on the entire organism–from their immune systems to their internal physical rhythms. Neither words nor compassion suffice in accessing these deep imprints on body and brain.

To overcome the tyranny of the past one needs to learn to befriend one’s damaged inner world and learn to deal with initially overwhelming sensations and arousal levels. Hence, recovery requires facing the imprint of trauma on the self as helpless, enraged, betrayed, ashamed, and endangered. Healing involves dealing with the defensive efforts that helped ensure survival, but that now keep people stuck. The cultivation of a deep sense of physical safety and physical mastery is a prerequisite for initiating new ways of perceiving reality and promoting new behavior patterns, and requires effective ways to deal with the fragmented memories of the past.

Recovery means bringing the traumatic experience to an end in every aspect of the human organism. In this course we will explore the role of yoga, mindfulness, rhythms, EMDR, neurofeedback, sensorimotor therapy, martial arts, Internal Family Systems Therapy, and theater to help mind, brain, and body to live fully in the present, rather than staying trapped in the traumatic past.