By Adena Bank Lees
When a person experiences a threat, it activates their action brain, the limbic system. Their body goes into survival mode, including the “fight or flight” response. This means a significant release of adrenaline, cortisol and other neurochemicals to make sure they get away from the threat in any way possible. Because most of the blood flow is going to the limbic system, it shuts down their thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex. Think about it: if you are being chased by a tiger, you probably won’t have time to consciously think about what to do. Your body will just automatically react in order to survive.
Research shows that trauma is processed and stored in the limbic system. This is why trauma survivors often live in a body-based world rather than a world of language. “We remember trauma less in words and more with our feelings and our bodies,” states Janina Fisher and Bessel van der Kolk, prominent trauma researchers.
Traditional “talk therapies,” such as cognitive behavioral therapy, target the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is not functioning when trauma occurs or resurfaces. Therefore, in order to heal from trauma, it is critical that your treatment targets limbic-system healing. Treatments like psychodrama, an experiential, body-focused method of treatment.
Psychodrama is an action-based, group psychotherapy. The way I define it for clients is “the stories of the soul in action.” This is because, through movement, role play and imagination, clients get to tell their stories and change the endings so they can move forward in their lives. The past can stay in the past rather than continuously and intrusively interrupting the present. Psychodrama works to integrate feelings, sensations and thoughts to “lock in” learning by using interactive exercises and enacting past experiences.
The behaviors that psychodrama teaches are spontaneity and creativity. Healthy spontaneity, in psychodrama terms, is the quality of choosing a new and effective response to an old situation. Creativity is the result of healthy spontaneity, fueling new ideas and behaviors. This might involve standing up and role-playing using a new behavior. Or using a new behavior outside of group and then reporting back how it went. This trait can help bring a person right into the moment, which is so important for trauma/PTSD recovery. This can help remove emotional blocks, allowing for more freedom and fluidity in navigating life’s challenges and enjoying life’s gifts.
Psychodrama is held in a group setting because those with post-traumatic stress often isolate themselves, feeling very much alone and misunderstood. Group provides a safe and supportive environment made up of people that understand and can relate to them. Those who’ve experienced trauma need love, acceptance, honest feedback, strength and hope. And group therapy enhances this type of connection. It helps shed the beliefs, emotions and behaviors set in place by traumatic experiences with “doing” rather than just “talking.”
Current research shows that experiential, body-focused methods of treatment are the most clinically powerful tools we have to help people recover from trauma. Buddy Horne, clinical specialist says, “Experiential therapy has been called the ‘treatment of choice’ for emotional trauma. It is a safe way for trauma survivors to experience painful emotions and release them not only through words but also through movement.”
If you are looking for a psychodramatist in your area, you can search www.psychodramacertification.org
Adena is an internationally recognized speaker, author, trainer and consultant, providing a fresh and important look at traumatic stress, addiction treatment and recovery. Her specialty is child-hood sexual abuse. Adena has over 25 years of experience. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor, Board Certified Expert® in Traumatic Stress, and a Certified Practitioner of Psychodrama.Adena is the author of Covert Emotional Incest: The Hidden Sexual Abuse, A Story of Hope and Healing, as well as 12 Healing Steps for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse; A Practical Guide.
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