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Brain by dierk schaefer.

“Every man can, of he so desires, become the sculptor of his own brain”
Santiago Ramon y Cajal

Santiago Ramon y Cajal was a nobel laureate and one of the greatest neurobiologists in history.  His assertion above has been proved more and more true as time has gone on and more elaborate science has been able to affirm the brain’s ability to change.  REMEMBER one of my favorite words for 2010 NEUROPLASTICITY?  I have been, as a trauma therapist, trauma survivor, and passionate advocate for people’s ability to find healing out of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, more invigorated by the day with the overwhelming new science proving that my experience and beliefs are more than just hypothesis in the mist.

I went to a lecture last Friday on “Neurobiology & Trauma” presented by the highly esteemed and eloquent Dr. Amanda Evans of Florida Gulf Coast University (and President of Florida’s National Association of Social Work).  I love a good neurobiology and trauma lecture as much as the next person–well, ok I guess I love it probably more than MOST of the people next to me–but I never know what to expect and get nervous for a 101 type generalist discussion.  I was blown away by Dr. Evans workshop–she affirmed all of what I have already learned and threw her own vantage point into the mix in a refreshing way.

One of the things she stressed, and I loved her description (I will paraphrase), was the difference between a traumatic experience, trauma survivor, and a person living with Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  I loved that she made this distinction because as a trauma therapist in a small field with this focus–most mental health professionals don’t specialize in this area–I have found there are so many perpetuated myths and misconceptions about PTSD that often get passed on as truths to clients and other professionals.  Some of the greatest myths I have heard perpetuated by other mental health professionals (well-intentioned but can be so damaging for clients and the perceptions of PTSD as a whole) are:

  • PTSD is a terminal diagnosis–You will have it forever.
  • PTSD is incurable, un-healable and can only be moderated with medication.
  • PTSD exists if you have even one or two of the symptoms and even if they go away if they return (even one symptom) then it means you have had it all along.
  • PTSD happens to anyone who has experienced trauma–if something traumatic happened you have PTSD.
  • PTSD is treated with talk therapy and medication–there are no other treatment approaches that do any good.
  • …I know there are more but these are the biggest.

Dr. Evans, in her eloquence, stated: (paraphrased)

“Having a symptom of PTSD does not make the diagnosis.  A person may have a flashback or intrusive thought at some point triggered by something that happens but that does not mean they have PTSD.  Post traumatic stress disorder is a persistent cluster of symptoms so great and overwhelming that they impact functioning and living life.  They affect a person’s ability to work, have personal relationships, and generally function in the world.  If you are not experiencing these elements in your daily life then you are having a normal response to a traumatic experience if you occasionally are reminded and it brings on a singular nightmare, thought, flashback–that is ok and does not mean that you have a disordered condition.  There is a misrepresentation of the difference between a normative response of a trauma survivor and a disordered way of being.”

Again, this is my paraphrasing of her words but the gist is what she stated.  It is always exciting for me to hear another professional, especially a well-versed specialist in the area of trauma, neurobiology, and diagnosis, describe what I know to be true as well.  Our brains can change.  The very nature of our own capacity for survival–mind,body, and spirit–that help us to SURVIVE are what can entrench that survival instinct and create a disordered response to the world–one that is all survival mode all the time.  This entrenched way of being that becomes a disordered response to the world in all aspects (mind,body, and spirit) are PTSD.  We can chip away at those responses and CHANGE our brain with the same resilience and survival capacity that brought us into a PTSD state in the first place.  The brain and our humanity are complex but also simple–we survive and hopefully through work we can do more than that and begin to THRIVE.  This is true for trauma survivors and everyone overcoming difficulties in life.

This also relates so much to MIND, BODY, and SPIRIT WELLNESS in that it gives hope and the potential for hope and change in ourselves and our lives grounding in reality and science!  Whether you are dealing with traumatic issues, stress, anxiety, or any emotionally distressing experience you can know that there is hope in our world and in our own BRAINS for CHANGE.  Neuroscientists are saying it, therapists are saying it, and the illusions and myths are being dispelled to make way for the truths of hard science and soft science.  I have known my own truth in my life, PTSD, and recovery journey in a visceral way…these new facts only help me to depict this truth concretely for others and be able to be an instiller of hope in my clients lives rather than handing out terminal diagnosis of disorder with no end.

APRIL is the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness month and in the honor of that I wanted to discuss the exciting world of hope in recovery and healing from traumatic experience.  I hope more people can believe in themselves, their brains, their spirits, their bodies and the ability to find healing from a variety of sources!  I discovered yoga as an avenue to my own wellness and found, through neurobiology and the roots of trauma and trouble with speech in trauma, that movement can often be a great outlet for emotional pain when talk cannot.  I hope everyone, trauma survivor, and just those surviving their own issues of life, takes the time to search for their own avenues to wellness!  What do you love? What brings you comfort? Start there and reach out for professional help if you need it–there are ways to healing and there are people who can help!

All my thoughts and blessings to those suffering from emotional pains today and every day.


The old glass half empty versus glass half full is an overused phrase but most overused phrases become so because they are both succinct and apt–as is this particular tome of truth.  So often we look at life, emotional distress, and healing from a glass half empty vantage point and in doing so we short change ourselves and our own capacity to find healing and wellness in our minds, hearts, and spirits.

I spoke in my 10 Words of Inspiration for 2010 post about the word “neuroplasticity” which is defined as the brain’s ability to CHANGE.  What a fascinating and optimistic truism of neurobiology that we, as humans, have been privileged to discover.  And what wonderful hope this truth can bring in life and healing if we choose to see it.

I was made privy on Sunday, via a facebook link, about a post from May 2009 by Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s “Paging Dr. Gupta” blog, medical correspondent for CNN.  He was asked whether there is healing from PTSD and his opinion, I believe more personal than medical, dictated that there was no full healing from PTSD and that it was a constant, lifelong struggle just to manage.  I felt provoked, by the certitude of his assertion to leave the following comment on this post  that I think describes in full my vantage point on the matter (as old as the post was it was just too in my core to say something):

Hello,

It is always a difficult thing as a survivor of trauma and sufferer from PTSD to tell your story. Thank you Dr. Gupta for doing that–it takes much bravery and internal strength. I think, also, that it is hard when you are in the immediate throes of traumatic experience and the aftermath of PTSD to see outside of it–very understandably so. I remember sitting on the side of traumatic experience where I thought there could be no relief or release and unable to find anyone that would insinuate otherwise. It is, again, so understandable to be so deep inside the pain of trauma and not yet in on a path of reprieve and healing that it is hard to imagine real healing or reprieve is possible.

I am a trauma therapist who has worked extensively with combat veterans, survivors of sexual trauma, sufferers of domestic violence, war torture and a variety of other traumatic issues to include chronic illness, eating disorders, and addictions. I have also integrated an extensive amount of mindfulness practices, mind/body techniques, yoga methods, animal-bond therapies and creative arts to facilitate healing in my own recovery as a trauma survivor over the years and in present-day in the lives of my clients. I have found that a multitude of approaches can facilitate a great amount of healing even to the point of being curative in most respects.

Can things be triggering to a person with traumatic history? Yes. But that does not PTSD make. PTSD is misunderstood so often and in that there are a lot of professionals and survivors alike giving themselves or their clients these, as I call them, “terminal PTSD diagnosis”. Telling people with PTSD that they have it forever, there is no way out, is beyond demoralizing it is minimizing a human’s ability to heal or (as we have learned from the study of neuroplasticity in the brain) the brain’s capacity, neurologically, to CHANGE ITSELF.

We learn survival response in overload during traumatic experience and when it gets “stuck” PTSD ensues. PTSD is a cluster of sever symptoms that equal up to a disorder by definition. We are all effected by the things that happen in our lives and painful experience leaves a mark. We cannot erase the existence of traumatic experience from our memories but there is possibility to heal the traumatic response and that stuckness of the survival mechanism so that one is not diagnostically, by definition, a sufferer of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Are there moments we are reminded of painful experience? Yes. Are there moments that might trigger that memory? Yes. But we also have a way to pull ourselves out–body, mind, and spirit–of the PTSD of trauma and live a healthful life. I have done this and I work to help others do the same daily as a trauma therapist. I believe in neuroplasticity, the brain’s capacity to change and essentially heal itself back to repair. I believe in all of our abilities to find our own resilience and wellness. These things are not easy and there is a process but I will not tell my clients that their PTSD is terminal–this was not true for me and I don’t believe it has to be true for others.

All my best wishes, prayers, and hopes for healing to all those suffering from PTSD and to yourself Dr. Gupta–I believe in your potential to heal and find wellness!

Teresa Bennett Pasquale, LCSW
http://www.embodymentalhealth.com

I figured that my comment would go into the blogosphere oblivion and then today I received the following email from Emily Van Horn, a somatic and energy bodywork professional from Santa Monica, California:

SUBJECT: thank you!

FROM: Emily Van Horn

Hello Teresa,
I just wanted to say thank you so much for your comment to Dr. Gupta.  As a trauma healing practitioner myself, I was appalled when reading that post that someone in such a position of “authority” would promote the mis conception that people can only manage their symptoms but can’t ever heal from PTSD.  I see the opposite of that on a daily basis in my own healing practice.

I wrote a comment that was never posted so it’s a relief to see that your was.  Again, thank you for taking the time to share your truth and help dispel the misinformation that is being promoted about the human capacity to heal from traumatic experiences.

many blessings,
Emily

I had been discussing earlier that day with my friend and co-professional Michele Rosenthal over at Heal My PTSD.com the impact a survivor and trauma professional’s voice can have when leant to the prospects and hopes for a healing journey.  That is why I started all the work I have, am trying (slowly) to write the memoir of my trauma experience and healing journey and created my website to expand people’s vantage points of potential angles and paths to healing.  Then there are the days I wonder if I am shouting into an abyss with only my own echo.  I know we all have those days.  Yesterday, on all fronts was not one of those days.  From the wonderful comments I got from people on my Karma-Infuse Your Life post to the wonderful surprise of an email from Emily  (LOOK FOR UPCOMING INTERVIEW WITH EMILY) I really felt as though my dreams, hopes, and personal journey of healing had some purpose and place as I shout into the void with my voice and my story.

My hope for everyone is HOPE.  A hope for healing.  A hope for peace.  A hope for a CHANGE OF MIND–as neuroplasticity tells us is possible for all of us with the right amount of effort.  See what we can do when we just try.  I tell my clients that all the time and they surprise themselves with proving that truism for themselves.  I hope for the hope of healing for Dr. Sanjay Gupta and all of the readers of his writing about trauma and all those who have not found the own healing properties and resources in their own minds, hearts, and spirits.  IT is there.  I believe in that.

I was thinking about words that I keep coming back to, professionally and personally, that resonate with me at so many levels.  The words that I come to all seem to be connected in a web of healing and I wanted to share them with you and see if any resonate with you in your life now or in your aspirations going into January of this new year.

TOP 10 WORDS of INSPIRATION for 2010:

1 Mindfulness:  A point of weakness for almost everyone, mindfulness reminds us to constantly be aware of what is going on inside us and in the external world in any given moment.  I find that the more I work on this concept with my clients the easier it is for them to manage their daily existence and the more I work on this concept for myself I find the same.  When I am in the moment driving, acknowledging the sun and the color of the sky, thinking only of the bumps on the road and the car in front of me somehow the world beyond that melts away–the past, the future, and all the worries entangled in each melt away when we are in the now and mindful of that experience. 

2  Resilience:  Ah, forever a key concept in emotional wellness or the lack of it, resilience is our capacity to–like the iguana–bounce back from difficulty  and traumatic emotional experience.  Resilience is something that can be widdled away at over time.  Each additional difficult emotional experience weakens  our wall of self-protection, like rocks being thrown at a wooden fence, the stability will become shakier and it has more potential to break and fall down altogether.  Resilience is critical to be able to weather emotional storms and return to a healthy emotional state but there is work to be done to get there….but, see #3, there is hope….

3 Neuroplasticity:  I love this word for what it means…although it sounds overwhelming it brings a hopefulness to healing, resilience, and wellness in every way.  Neuroplasticity, simply stated, is the scientifically tested truism that THE BRAIN CAN CHANGE.  This brings hope to any obstacle and every internal roadblock in our mind because neuroscience has taught us that any dog can learn a new trick–young, old, traumatized, or otherwise.  We can relearn a sense of resilience, find new coping mechanisms, and rebuild our wall of safety so that we can weather anything with the right tools. 

4 Present-Centered:  This words in tandem with mindfulness practices as it symbolizes living in the moment of our daily existence.  Present-centered existence means really being able let go of our hold on  yesterday, our worries about tomorrow and visualize today for what it is.  Mindfulness teaches us the attunement of living in the now while present-centered philosophy embodies the very nature of being in the now.  If we can work just on being in the moment for a brief period every day we might find a richness and truth imbedded in where we are that we never expected.  When I have brief moments of really being present where I am there are rich spiritual and emotinal rewards–but it is a very difficult thing to embody and a practice I am working on….meditation, for me, is a way of training myself to keep in the moment a little longer every day. 

5  Somatics:  The essense of embodiment, somatic means that we feel and experience things in our physical self.  Our body holds, as many people I think have discovered in their practice of yoga, pockets of hidden secrets and rich emotional material.  We can feel our navel and be reminded of pleasures and pains in our psychological and emotional past.  For someone traumatized their body becomes the triggering point for many painful memories and our body responds along with our mind to what we are afraid of, sad about, happy for.  The somatic experience, meaning a body attunement and discovery, can unlock hidden pains that talk alone could have never explored so deeply.  In every way we emBODY our feelings, stories, and aches. 

6 Integrative:  The word integrative, along with complementary, has been linked within the medical and mental health community to symbolize the umbrella of holistic treatment approaches and therapies that are being discovered to be a great help for people in healing from emotional and physical ills.  Such fields as acupuncture, massage, yoga, creative arts, animal-bond, tai chi, and others are being explored and studied in relation to how they can help us heal.  I believe this year is going to continue to be exciting and invigorating for the study and practice of amazing programs incorporating all these wonderful healing practices–I truely cannot wait to see where it all leads, for me personally and within the field of mental health and trauma therapy!

7 Yoga:  Each moment I spend delving deeper into the world and practice of yoga the more I see it as a sincere life path that seems to walk parallel and stand as a great  metaphor for so many of my core beliefs both personally and professionally.  Life, birth, death, and transformation all seem to begin and end with a breath.  In my new book I explore breath as the mark of both my descent into my trauma, PTSD, and my renewal and rebirth of recovery.  For me yoga was a pinnacle point of my changing life perspective, my renewal of resilience, and learning to be strong in myself again.  Yoga begins with breath and from there it can be applied, karmically, physically, emotionally into our practice and methods of living in the world at large.  I look forward to continue my exploration of yoga and learning new ways to stretch myself, literally and metaphorically, through this upcoming teacher training. 

8 Soul:  The soul is “the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life” as I quote e.e. cummings in one of my favorite poems.  Soul is the essence of what we are when we take away flesh and bone and mind and even heart we are soul in the beginning and in the end and at our very core.  Souls can become damaged in this thing called life and the tribulations within….sometimes we just need some soul renewal.  I think mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and just time of reflection can give us some insight into and attention towards the often neglected root of the self–the soul.  I have to remember to care for myself, we all do, as I work at so much of this mind and body “work”.  We cannot neglect the root of the root and the bud of the bud as we wander through our lives.

9 Equine:  I have begun to dream about horses.  They are entering my consciousness at a new level and it is a comforting and inviting experience to find them nestled in the pages of my unconcious stories.  I find my dreams with equines to be much softer and calmer than my other, more restless nighttime machinations.  In dream interpretation it is said that horses represent strength, power, endurance, and a strong physical energy.  I hope to be able to wrangle some of that equine spirit of my dreams into a stronger physical self in 2010–one that can defy the limitations of my endometriosis.  I hope to imbibe some of that overall strength inherently found in horses and breathe it into myself and my life in this upcoming year…and beyond. 

10 Empowerment:  In working with a few more clients heading into this year with severe self-esteem and body image issues (male and female) I find that this word has ever increasing importance in my vocabulary and the way that I think in terms of helping people.  Empowerment is a key element to any human’s will to persevere in their own lives–we must feel strong, proud, compitent, and confident in our own bodies and minds in some way to be motivated to take on the difficulties of life.  I think, perhaps, empowerment of the self can be one of the greatest keys to emotional wellness.  My hope, in 2010, is to start to create some workshop programming helping people with just this piece–finding a sense of empowerment and strength of self.  I believe that horses can be a great co-facilitator in this regard.   With their symbolic linkages to strength and their yogic-like attunement to emotions and the present they seem just the therapists to assist in the challenge.

May 2020
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