September 16, 2008

Trauma, Chronic Pain & Craniosacral Therapy

I have been having an interesting and engaged conversion with Ambivalent Hippie from another post over at A Soldier's Perspective, on the subject of the mind-body connection and how that effects trauma survivors and figured that others my benefit from this exchange. Here she describes her quest for learning to help our veterans,
I'm a massage therapist, getting training in craniosacral therapy, which deals with a fair amount of neurological reprogramming after the dissociation and compartmentalization that often comes with trauma. I want to help these guys and honestly am struggling to maintain hope, feeling somewhat powerless.
A comment by me concerning chronic pain and trauma:
...I have read some about how the body remembers trauma even if the conscious mind does not. How this somatic connection can manifest in the body becoming ridged and tense leading to chronic pain and fatigue. In the reading I have sampled massage has released this tension and in doing so unblocks the memories that have been suppressed.

The neurological reprogramming that you mentioned along with dissociation and compartmentalization interest me as I have wrote extensively these matters from a psychological perspective. I would appreciate some expounding on your understanding of the connection with the physiological aspects of massage and the release of the psychological defensive mechanisms that trouble the mind-body connexion of the traumatized person.
Ambivalent Hippie's response:
Basically the idea is that our body is the vehicle for all of our experiences - we literally metabolize them. What often happens with trauma is that an experience is overwhelming enough that the body doesn't fully process it. It centers the disturbance and holds it in a particular location to contain it. The simplest example of this would be a "knot", or tension/spasm in someone's shoulder-blade, but this can also show up in someone's nervous system, with memories that have been shut out of consciousness or show up as flashbacks and disrupt functioning on some level. Either way, the experience can hold a tremendous amount of energetic charge.

With the trust of a safe therapeutic relationship, and learning to have a conscious relationship with one's own body, there can be space for these kinds of holdings to release. Physical releases often show up as tremors or shaking, as animals tend to do after a traumatic event. Our society and conscious minds can sometimes suppress this process from running its course. Emotional releases are harder to predict or describe, but they do happen also. Once the energy holding the traumatic memory in place in the nervous system and tissue has been released, the relationship to certain memories can be entirely different, allowing people to exist more fully in the present moment.

Some helpful books might be:
  • Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine
  • The Body Remembers by Babette Rothschild
  • The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation and Disease by Robert Scear
  • Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body and Society by Van der Kolk, McFarlane and Weisaeth
  • Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence - From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman
Hope that helps!
My next comment,
AH, thank you for the education and information on the mind body connection. I have read a little on the subject and have considered doing massage therapy and hypnosis to get past the physical wreckage that resides in my body.

Most of the time I cannot sleep well and when I get up in the morning it feels as thought a truck has ran me over. I feel physical pain constantly everyday and very rarely am I relaxed. I have to remind myself to relax the muscles in my legs and buttocks, but have yet to learn how to mentally relax the muscle group in my back.


  1. Hee. I've seriously covered this topic in much depth recently on my blog. But it doesn't sound like you were aware of that. It's all there already. And craniosacral is one of the better ideas for it, really. Cool...

    Look for the categories called "Complementary and Alternative Medicine" or "Bodywork" and you'll find a ton of info on this already.

  2. Lilly, my writing about PTSD is extremely hard for me. I am dealing with shit that I have only now begun to process. I had to incorporate a whole lifetime of shit just to get to the point of being able to face my wartime activities. I use the word "activities" to somehow sterilize the what I saw. Language showing that I have yet to integrate a significant part of my life.

    In the last four months since I started writing my blog I have been experiencing extreme dissociative episodes. After having realized this I started limiting my writing and reading about trauma and combat.

    This is why I have not read your blog in a while. I hope that I did not offend you by not doing so. Your comments seemed like you were upset with me.

    When I get information from three good sources my spiritual side tells me that I should investigate further and probably need to act on what has been presented to me.

    Your message and information coming at a time when I am considering new therapies along with another readers conversation has convinced me to go forward.

    Thank you, and I will totally read your latest.


Please share your comments, stories and information. Thank you. ~ Scott Lee