The practice of mindfulness can also play a significant role in trauma recovery by helping to restructure parts of the brain that have been the most compromised by trauma. Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment to body sensations, emotions and thoughts without judgement (Williams et al, 2007). Mindfulness is a skill based on thousands of years of practice in various meditative traditions. The most popular modern versions are Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, yoga and qi gong.
Safe relationships and the development of mind/body practices calm the limbic system. Recent studies that look at changes in the brains of people who have been practicing meditation, even for a short time, show that their limbic systems are less reactive and the neural connections between the prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) and the limbic area (reactive brain) increased (Davidson, 2012). These changes show that meditators are more likely to pause before reacting and, when stressed, choose a wiser course of action.
Other studies have shown that cognitive behavioural therapy combined with mindfulness practices can help prevent a relapse in people prone to clinical depression (Williams et al, 2007), obsessive compulsive disorder (Schwartz, 1996) and addictions (Marlatt, 2010).
Not all mindful practices involve sitting still. Besel Van der Kolk’s team at his center for people impacted by trauma in Massachusetts showed that women with “treatment resistant” PTSD who participated in several weeks of yoga improved. Almost half of them no longer had the symptom requirements for a diagnosis of PTSD (see yoga article at www.traumacenter.org). While these are early days, the emerging literature would suggest that there are many ways to heal from trauma.
There are other types of self soothing practices such as meditation, deep breathing yoga, Chi Qong etc. and spiritual and cultural practices and ceremonies that have been shown to be effective in regulating the nervous system. These practices may work well with more traditional talk therapies allowing greater stability throughout recovery. Auricular Acupuncture has the added advantage of reducing cravings for alcohol and drugs as well as promoting better sleep and clearer thinking among clients who receive it regularly (Stuyt, 2006). It is also well suited for supporting work with refugees and immigrants in that it is nonverbal and closer to the methods of traditional medicines found in a variety of cultures.
For additional information:
The Mindful Solution to Everyday Problems, Ron Siegel
Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat Zinn
Mindfulness for Beginners, Jon Kabat Zinn
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