This is an article about a formal diagnosis of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the process of undergoing therapy with a licensed counselor- and then using alternative mind-body spirit practices to complement and amplify the therapy received. Nothing presented here is meant to replace the value of formal therapy and treatment.
PTSD therapies: what they did and did not do for me: After a formal diagnosis of complex PTSD, I was referred to a series of licensed therapists for a period of 24 months, where I received a variety of conventional treatments that included CBT, EMDR techniques, medications, art therapy, and life goal work. The therapies helped me recover from the immediate emotional flashback I was experiencing and their debilitating effects- but they did not make me recover a passion for living or help me feel more connected in my communities and relationships, a finding common in mental health recovery. It was the incorporation of shamanic techniques and processes into all stages of my therapy that played that role for me.
This article assumes that the reader is familiar with the concepts of both trauma and shamanism; here, I have provided a supplementary blog post to introduce readers to the themes I will touch in this writing.
To Complement Medication And Talk Therapy:
- Safe space exercise: Perhaps the single most powerful technique I learned, is the idea that human presence can not only be cultivated, but that the presence of other accepting human beings is necessary for all forms of soul expression to occur. These exercises allow an adult to receive the focused attention and energy of a small group of people dedicated to their transformation, and allow for a person to safely address trauma effects, flashbacks, and areas of life where support is lacking- all crucial elements to addressing PTSD and its impacts. This exercise empowered me to recognize the ways that I cultivated situations where stressors could affect me, and by addressing them, I was able to start bringing a sense of peace into my life and home.
- Time crystal work: A fascinating concept I learned in 2019; how traumatic events get “stuck” in our being, and keep us rooted in a moment in time that prevents our ability to let go. Most traditional trauma therapies involve repeatedly recalling and reliving a traumatic event; this therapy does the opposite. It is used to complement the safe space work, and just identifies places where a person’s spiritual energy feels stuck or blocked- and without knowing what the block is, simply dissolves it. When I did this exercise early this year on myself, I found that I finally made headway in recuperating from factors contributing to a deep financial crisis that has been affecting me for 3 years, among other advances.
- Movement-based programming: Much of what we do in therapy involves sitting- yet we know there is a very strong connection between the brain and physical movement. The act of moving our bodies in a certain way or direction activates changes in the brain and allows us to more easily and more effectively develop new habits. I use this technique a lot in my teaching of others, especially with an activity that uses walking across a physical bridge to design manageable steps for meeting immediate and long-term life goals.
- Transformation of critical dialogue: We are all very vulnerable to, and often consciously or subconsciously limited by, criticisms by others about how we “should” think, feel, act, speak, or recover in a given situation. Learning to turn around critical dialogue turns “what is wrong with you,” into “what is actually right with you.” Don’t get along well with assholes or ignorant people? That may not be the problem that others tell you it is.
To Complement EMDR:
- Soul fragment recovery: Scientists know that in PTSD, traumatic events cannot be processed by both brain hemispheres, causing a feedback loop where a memory is “locked” in one place and continues triggering us to re-experience the initial trauma. This mechanism is not well understood yet. Shamanic practices teach us that when we are exposed to great trauma, we send a vulnerable part of our soul (often the “inner child”) to a safe place, where it can become lost and not be able to find its way back. Our job is that, once the person is ready and has created a safe place again in the physical world, the shaman goes on a spiritual journey in search of the hidden or lost soul fragments and leads them back. We see this a complementary way of thinking about stress and trauma, and a fascinating way to help dissociated, depressed patients recover their childhood joy and dreams.
- Psychological writing exercises: Dr, James Pennebaker’s landmark research into job loss trauma uncovered the interesting paradigm that some types of creative expression (such as talking about or ruminating on an event) actually reinforce the event’s effect on the brain (positive or negative); while a different focused writing approach has the effect of clearing the event’s impact. This clearing is what EMDR therapy does over the course of several months. Use of a specific writing exercise (that I teach in my classes) can clear many kinds of trauma in as little as one or two sessions. We can expand this knowledge to help people in art, poetry, creative writing, and other forms of expression, to understand if their way of writing is fueling their recovery, or further traumatizing them.
Any of these techniques obviously deserves its own article; I encourage people who want to learn more, to investigate the resources linked in this article, and/or contact me directly with any questions related to my own understanding and healing.
Rachael Shenyo is a US national living and working in Central America as a development specialist, scientist, writer, and life coach. In her coaching, she specializes in helping people find and hear their inner voice, and act upon their life goals. In her scientific work, she works with climate change. Her professional profile may be found on LinkedIn.