The Neurobiology of Trauma-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Informed Treatment for PTSD

Informed Trauma Treatment Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The neurobiology of trauma guides effective healing and recovery. Unresolved PTSD can leave you feeling both overwhelmed and shut down and it is beneficial to know not only why this is happening but how to most effectively respond.

If you have heard of stress you likely are familiar with the notion of fight or flight; or the body’s built in protection mechanism to flee from fight against a dangerous situation or predator. PTSD researchers and treatment providers have also taken a strong interest in the “immobilization” responses that typically occur when fight or flight do not restore safety. Immobilization can present in different ways. Sometimes as a high alert stillness or a freeze of the body, sometimes as a state of fright, and sometimes as dissociation in a flag or faint response.

“We must look beyond fight and flight in the healing of PTSD. Whether you are an individual healing from trauma or a therapist in the role of helping others, this post will help you better understand the stages of trauma response. The neurobiology of trauma provides valuable information to not only understand symptoms but also to guide effective treatment.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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EMDR Therapy in Relationship-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Healing Complex PTSD with EMDR Therapy

EMDR Therapy in Relationship

The other day a colleague sent me a link to a website offering virtual EMDR Therapy. In disbelief, we both remarked on the inappropriateness of such an offering for it misses an essential component of healing…the therapeutic relationship.

Recovery from developmental trauma requires that you have a reparative experience in relationship. Within the ground of another—in this case, a compassionate therapist—you embrace experiences of confusion, discomfort, anger, grief, shame, and pain. A compassionate therapist offers a container of sorts for the feelings and memories that you might be unable to handle alone. And together, you’ll build trust, gain perspective, and find healing tools that work best for you.

In my presentation for the Colorado Counseling Association conference, I discuss the process of healing from complex PTSD and dissociation with relationally based EMDR Therapy. This post provides a summary of the talk for those who attended and those who couldn’t make it in person.

“Whether you are a therapist helping others recover from childhood trauma or you are an individual walking the healing path this post provides valuable guidance. When you are empowered with knowledge and awareness, you can deepen your self-acceptance and reduce the difficult emotions that often accompany developmental trauma. With a greater understanding of complex PTSD and dissociation, you will come away with a deepened appreciation for why EMDR Therapy only makes sense within a relational context.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Vision, Hard Work, and Harvest-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Let’s Catch Up

Dr. Arielle Schwartz

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog and I have several exciting updates to share with you. Here is where the story starts…

I entered 2016 having already achieved several of my professional goals (maintaining a thriving private practice, teaching Trainings for Therapists on EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology). But this year I wanted more. I named two big Intentions and then Big Magic (thank you Elizabeth Gilbert) happened.

First, I asserted to the universe, “I will create an online offering of my work so that I can reach more people.” Next I stated, “I will write a book.”

I wasn’t sure what form these intentions would take but I started anyway

“This is where the magic begins. When we stare into the invisible veil of the future and we have only our imagination to cross that divide. Sometimes we all can feel frightened or even immobilized by the unknown. But something extraordinary can happen when we project our YES onto that blank slate. And something equally amazing occurs when these intentions are followed with motivation, action, and endurance. This post is about vision, hard work, and harvest.”
Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Acute Traumatic Stress-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Do Not Wait to Heal

Acute Traumatic Stress Dr. Arielle Schwartz

If you have experienced a recent traumatic event NOW is the time to get support. Interventions immediately following a traumatic event help prevent the development of Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD). Do not wait. Many people inaccurately believe that they need to “give it time” and do not take advantage of this crucial period of healing.

“This post provides recent trauma survivors with an understanding about the types of feelings and experiences common during the weeks after such terrifying and life altering events. When we have such knowledge we are less likely to feel frightened by the intense emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations that typically occur. As a result we deepen self-compassion for our symptoms and work with rather than against the body-mind connection to facilitate healing.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Somatic Interventions in EMDR Therapy

Somatic Therapy and EMDR Therapy

EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Feel like you’re tied up in knots? We need to go beyond talk therapy to get free!

Our bodies need to process stressful events through breath and movement. When we do not include body awareness, movement, and conscious breathing in trauma processing we limit our ability to work with our innate healing capacities. Somatic Therapy engages body awareness as an intervention in psychotherapy and addresses the connections between the brain, the mind, and behavior. Modern day somatic psychotherapies such as Somatic Experiencing or Sensorimotor Psychotherapy are most recognized today; however, the field of somatic psychology encompasses a broad range of modalities that have evolved over time.

EMDR Therapists with training in somatic interventions have advanced tools to work with the dysregulation of the nervous system associated with post traumatic stress. Bessel Van der Kolk, premier trauma treatment researcher, endorsed both Somatic Psychology and EMDR Therapy as the best approaches for the treatment of PTSD. Upcoming trainings

“The rich history of somatic psychology contextualizes the types of interventions body-centered psychotherapists use today. This post introduces several key principles from somatic psychology as applied to EMDR Therapy.”
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Vagus Nerve Stimulation Explained

Knowledge is Power

Psychology in Boulder

Vagus nerve irregularities cause tremendous distress in physical and emotional health. Physical consequences can include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), heart burn or GERD, nausea or vomiting, fainting, tinnitus, tachycardia, auto-immune disorders, seizures, and migraines. Mental health consequences include fatigue, depression, panic attacks, or a classic alternation between feeling overwhelmed and shut-down. It is always important to discuss these symptoms with your physician. It is also valuable to have access to information that helps us stay informed when it comes to our healthcare.

In a previous post I discuss Natural Vagus Nerve Stimulation as related to the treatment of PTSD. In response to that post I received a series question. Here are just a few:

  • “If I am already experiencing anxiety isn’t my vagus nerve already over-stimulated?”
  • “How can stimulating the same nerve help both depression and anxiety?”
  • “I’m excited to learn about natural vagus nerve stimulation techniques but for how long do I do the exercises?”

Since these questions are quite common this post includes my response to these readers with you.

“Having an understanding about the neural and physiological substrates of the body and mind provides keys that can open many doors. Such an understanding can allow you advocate for your needs with healthcare providers and help you feel empowered in your healing journey. You can learn the practices that help you regulate your mind and emotions and as a result positively impact your physical health. Knowledge is power.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Mothering-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Real Love

Mothering Dr. Arielle Schwartz

When we think about an ideal mother we tend to think about someone who is nurturing, loving, caring, compassionate, available, soft, and empathic. In reality we are not able to nor are we meant to live perfection. As a mother I am tender and kind but I can be surprised by the prickly reactions I have sometimes. I have my moments where I blunder. Other times I feel capable to handle any challenge, be it the skinned knee, the homework struggle, or the hurt heart.

“A few weeks ago I had a difficult moment as a mom. I lost my cool, was piercing and sharp with my words. I called up a friend and downloaded my heavy hearted moment. It is important to know that we are not alone in these spiny moments of mothering. What I aspire to as a parent is to learn these interactions and to stay committed to the relationship. I trust in my ability to repair my mistakes no matter how long it takes. I am learning the art of accepting my flaws and challenging myself to grow in the face of them. Yes, even cactuses bloom.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Complex PTSD and Dissociation-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Healing from Developmental Trauma

Complex PTSD and Dissociation Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Traumatic experiences are by their very definition frightening and overwhelming. Events such car accidents, natural disasters, or acts of violence, change our familiar orientation to the world. It is common to feel flooded with powerful emotions, sensations, or memories as we adapt to new and often unwanted reality. Sometimes we start to avoid places reminiscent of the trauma. Or we might have or have intrusive memories and feelings. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) refers to the presence of these symptoms well after the event is over.

There is another kind of post traumatic stress called Complex PTSD, also known as Developmental Trauma Disorder or Complex Trauma. When you experience childhood neglect or chronic abuse your primary orientation to the world is one of threat, fear, and survival. Untrustworthy parents or caregivers leave you untrusting or confused about what constitutes a loving relationship. Fear and lack of safety leaves you scanning your environment for potential threats. A neglected or abused child will rely upon built-in, biological protection mechanisms for survival to “tune out” the threat. Patterns of fear and dissociation inform the developing body and mind.

“Adults abused as children often report feeling helpless, hopeless, despair, deep loneliness, shame, unfairness, injustice, sweeping depression, and suicidal thoughts. Many continue to push the scary, yucky, painful, and confusing feelings far away by resorting to learned dissociative patterns. Even though you are safe now, it can feel overwhelming to acknowledge remnants of historical threats held in body, emotions, and mind. We heal early developmental trauma within a safe relationship that is respectful, predictable, consistent, non-defensive, and has clear boundaries. Gently we redefine our capacity for relationship with a trustworthy other. Slowly we rebuild faith in ourselves.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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6 Pillars of Resilience-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Are you Naturally Resilient?

Gratitude Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Resilience is a passion of mine. This strength based orientation is the cornerstone of my psychotherapy practice, so much so that I call my work, Resilience Informed Therapy. Resilience means adapting well in the face of adversity and is associated with a mindset that recognizes our capacity to grow through both positive and negative life events.

This week I came across an interesting piece of recent research about resilience from Arizona State University. They challenge the existing scientific claim that most people are naturally resilient after exposure to a traumatic event stating that this misunderstanding can lead to dangerous consequences. For example, individuals who do struggle after a traumatic event, who do not rebound quickly, might feel as though there is something wrong with them. Clinicians who assume clients “should” be more resilient might inadvertently blame the victim. Policy makers might fail to allocate funds for interventions post traumatic events.

I think of resilience as a process, not just an outcome. You wouldn’t brush and floss your teeth on Monday and think that sufficient for the rest of the week. Likewise, resilience is best served when we actively participate in supporting our physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health each and every day. You can build your resilience by engaging in small actions such as a call to a friend, writing for 5 minutes in your journal, or taking a walk around the block in the evening. While each one of these steps might seem small, collectively they can help you to feel strong, relaxed, capable, and more connected to others in the world.This post pulls together a wide range of research on resilience into what I call the 6 Pillars of Resilience

“Resilience is not a trait that you either have or do not have; it is a set of strategies that can be learned and practiced and by anyone. There is a wide range of resilient behaviors, some of which will resonate with you and some will not. My invitation to you is to create your own personalized approach that helps to build your resilience each day.” Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Depth Psychology-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The Study of the Soul

Depth Psychology Dr. Arielle Schwartz

My family and I just returned from a trip to Chaco Canyon, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce National parks. Being in these places provided a powerful reminder of history and culture as we walked in the footsteps of the Pueblo people, gazed upon the remains of their homes and ceremonial grounds. Profound images of Kivas and the ancient people whose lives peacefully revolved around the seasons and celestial markers of time. Thousand year old stone structures were aligned with the passage of the sun revealing powerful alignments with the solstices and equinoxes. Moments of awe and a sense of being on sacred ground were amplified by the timing of our trip that happened to coincide with the spring equinox and the full moon.

This trip reminded me of my psychological roots. My mother introduced me to Jungian Psychology as it was a passion of hers as she had the opportunity to undergo many years of her own analysis. When I began my studies in psychology I too was drawn to this depth approach through many years of dream work and embodied process work. Psyche is the Greek word for “soul.” Psychology in true form is the study of the soul.

“Depth psychology explores dreams, stories, myths, symbols, culture, and history as ways to access a sense of meaning. This provides substance behind the superficial, yet equally important, aspects of life. Of course, we need to work, to pay the bills, to cook the meals, and to wash the dishes. Equally, we need to feel connected to something bigger than us to know how our unique thread fits into the fabric of all life.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz Continue reading