For the past two decades, science has been uncovering some important features of traumatized clients. There is mounting evidence that traumatized individuals vary widely in their ability to adapt to trauma, in part due to underlying physical factors. For instance, some see the presence of chronic emotional trauma as having the potential to cause permanent physical damage in at least the hippocampus (Sapolsky, in Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (1994) argues that chronic stress is a significant cause of aging in several species). This might mean that some individuals who have gone through multiple traumas or what in the DSM V will likely be called Disorders of Extreme Stress NOS, because of a changed hippocampus, might have diminished abilities to perceive or recover from subsequent stressors.
Other studies have show that certain traumatized populations (traumatized women and combat veterans) show similar characteristics of neurological dysregulation. Susan Johnson noted (Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors, 2002) that one implication is that such individuals may be unable to use their emotions as an appropriate danger signal to prompt adaptive action. The chronic activation in their brain systems seems to result in overreactions to non-emergencies and freezing responses in the presence of real danger.
All the above ought to be enough to make us cautious in the use of any kind of therapy that exposes the client to more of the emotional impact of trauma and turn our attention to therapies that emphasize the client’s ability to build an emotionally neutral or regulated response to what has happened and an adaptive recognition and response to new dangers. Helping the client stay emotionally connected in the here and now, rather than being re-traumatized by the there and then, in other words, seems key.
One therapy that goes about it in precisely this way is Rapid Resolution Therapy, as developed by Jon Connelly. The therapist uses a strong interpersonal connection built from the first moments of the session and collaboratively builds a model for calm, centered, enlightened functioning with the client. This is reinforced artfully in a variety of ways, such that when client and clinician finally deal with the trauma story, the most important thing going on in the room is the ongoing present connection between them. Clients find, to their amazement, that their stories can be told, neither in a dissociated way nor an over-reactive way, but calmly and straightforwardly, as so much historical data about an episode in their lives, in the same tone as one might read out of an outdated phone book. This produces an emotional freedom occurring from what seems like a shift in the brain’s processing mechanism. Outcome studies are currently underway with regard to Rapid Resolution Therapy and more light will no doubt be shed on this interesting method.
© Copyright 2011 by Mark A. Chidley, LMHC, CAP, therapist in Fort Myers, Florida. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.