How The Body Heals Trauma;
Hypnotherapy Supports Emotional & Physical Recovery
Sometimes we have a little scratch on the skin and don’t even realize it happened or the need to heal it. But the body knows what happened and begins to work on it immediately. Our bodies are amazing healers. With a skin injury, the first thing the body does is stop the bleeding. The body has very specific biological processes to do this and it does it even without conscious awareness of an injury. Immediately the body releases chemical clotting factors that cause platelets to accumulate and form a clot. Also, vasoconstriction of the blood vessels occurs to narrow down the opening and slow down or stop the bleeding. This is a two-fold process to close off the affected blood vessel and form a clot at the end, because the body has automatic mechanisms to respond to any type of injury or trauma.
The interesting thing about hypnosis is that it has a long history of helping people to control blood flow in the case of hemophilia and missing clotting factors in the blood, among other types of physical repairs. The subconscious and unconscious parts of the brain have direct control over physical functions and closely watch out for threats of injury and danger. This does not eliminate the need for external forces, however, such as first aid to apply compression over a bleeding arterial wound. Certainly, external interventions are sometimes necessary to stabilize and support repairs made by the body.
Once blood flow is stabilized, the body moves to the inflammatory phase. Inflammation causes a myriad of chemicals, such as proteins, to be released into the blood stream. Inflammation serves a dual purpose. When we describe inflammation, we may call the involved part angry due to the swelling, tenderness and redness. However, inflammation provides beneficial protection by immobilizing or isolating the injured area to prevent further injury. Therefore, the inflammation is initially very important in the healing process and a phase the body must go through after an injury or trauma.
Acute inflammation is a call for help from the rest of the body and mind. But we don’t want to sustain that inflammation forever. In the case of overwhelming emotional injury, the mind may separate out the alarmed part in a dissociation process, so the rest of the cognitive parts of the person can go on with normal life and functioning. This is a survival mechanism related to the sympathetic nervous responses of fight, flight or freeze. Acute inflammation has positive benefits but chronic inflammation may impair healing and cause secondary conditions. Likewise, when people are emotionally angry or upset, they are inflamed as well and may slam things around, yell, or be fearful until the traumatic experience is resolved.
The next phase in physical recovery is called the proliferative phase, when reconstruction occurs. The body sends cells called fibroblasts to the damaged area to build a scaffolding structure around it. From the scaffolding, other repair cells can be added to restore the tissue. The proliferative phase is the rebuilding of skin and other soft tissues. In the case of overwhelming emotional trauma, the body stores physical and sensory memories of the experience, which will be re-played subsequently whenever the memory is triggered. A familiar phrase describing this process is The Body Keeps The Score, which also is the name of a book. Furthermore, protective parts of the personality are formed to establish behaviors to prevent further trauma.
Once reconstruction is complete, the scaffolding and excess tissue is removed during the remodeling phase. If the remodeling phase is not completed, scar tissue remains as a secondary effect. With emotional trauma, hypnosis uses emotional release techniques to let go of recurrent painful feelings that improve both physical and mental well-being. Hypnosis parts therapy also helps to re-integrate the traumatized part back into the whole self to create harmony and balance.
Depending on the type of trauma, secondary effects may result in behavioral adaptations by the person for initial positive intent but which cause problems later. For example, chronic pain, functional loss or emotional dysregulation may develop as a consequence. Sometimes those adaptations become challenging such as work difficulties, mood shifts or addictions. Adaptative changes can affect family and marital relationships too. On a mental level following a significant injury or psychological trauma, people tend to feel angry and upset over how it changed their lives. They may begin to doubt who they truly are or what their purpose in life is.
In hypnotherapy, we first assess where the client is in the process of recovery. If they are still angry or have other emotions such as anxiety, PTSD or depression, we need to help them to calm down the inflammation, sympathetic nervous system arousal and stress response. When people are in crisis, higher cognitive functions are not optimal because the body is flooded with stress hormones, indicating a need for relaxation out of that elevated, alarm state as a first step. For example, that is experienced by people with panic attacks or PTSD. Hypnosis methods include a large number of calming techniques, which are taught to clients for use at home.
Once the client is feeling safe, initial and subsequent traumas can be explored for emotional release, recognition that the trauma was in the past and not happening now, and re-building new beliefs, perspectives and healthy capacities. Forms of re-building and physical re-modeling happen all along in the process. Compassion and self-regulation capacities are enhanced. This is important because without the right type of therapy, people can remain stuck in one of the recovery phases for decades. For example, when a child is not allowed to safely express their feelings at the time of the trauma, those feelings remain hidden at a suppressed or a disowned level, subconsciously affecting behavior for years afterwards in multiple possible ways.