Saturday, June 6, 2009

20th Annual Trauma Conference: Notes from the Inside

Yesterday, a friend set me straight on my perspective about this conference. He explained to me: "Most people who get interested in the science are studying lab rats. It's unusual for the lab rats to be studying the science."

Once I understood that I am a rat at this conference, I got into the groove of the maze. As any good rat would, I adapted to the stimuli and made my way to find the cheese. Here it is, in bits and pieces:

Mothers, DNA and Psychological Trauma - Rats, actually, were the star of this lecture as Rachel Yehuda proved beyond scientific doubt that PTSD has epigenetic implications. That is, PTSD is passed from mothers to offspring through environmental effects that change the function of a gene while leaving its structure intact. Studies done with children of Holocaust survivors, 9/11 survivors pregnant on the day of the tragedy, and handled rats all were used to prove (largely through low levels of cortisol) that PTSD can be passed down through the maternal line.

Integrating the Past & Present: PTSD - An Information Processing Disorder- In this interesting lecture Alexander McFarlane included in the scientific data a large amount of artistic examples to discuss how and why we don't integrate trauma. A large problem he highlighted is the lack of language to effectively communicate traumatic impact. Using examples like the works of Auden, Picasso, Tolstoy, Nietzche and several other artists and theorists, McFarlane made the case that a big part of the PTSD problem is how small is our ability to communicate experience.

Neurofeedback- Larry Hirschberg, head of the NeuroDevelopment Center, spoke again today on the positive results of neurofeedback (NFB). Unfortunately, there is not enough data to support its effects in the PTSD population. However, I had a private conversation with Larry afterward in which he relayed to me his belief that it can be effective, although not necessarily as a tool all by itself. In PTSD cases he uses it largely in conjunction with clinical therapy. One way NFB is effective is in training the brain to reduce beta level activity (our hyper, active state) and induce more alpha activity (our at rest state). Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more from Larry; he's agreed to write a guest post just for Parasites of the Mind.

Working with Dissociated States- Fran Grossman deals a lot with patients who experienced early childhood trauma and who have developed fragmented parts. Her work, along the lines of Internal Family Systems, strives to address all the parts, help the survivor become aware of them, and then find a way to make the parts work together. The theory underneath it all: Pierre Janet's postulation that following trauma, systems of ideas can separate from the main personality and exist separately. In order to heal they must come back together. Grossman walked us through how she worked with one particular case to meet the different parts, explore their disturbances, and resolve their crises so that the survivor can work toward finding peace.

Chair Yoga and Mindfulness Techniques for Self-Regulation- Dana Moore is a young guy who works at the Trauma Center with Bessel van der Kolk. He has a deep meditation practice and a very calm, good-energy, peaceful aura. For 30 minutes he led us through a waking meditation that he uses with clients. In order to help them reground themselves in their bodies, he uses Mountain Pose, regulated breathing and awareness, plus muscle exercises to bring focus into the body in the present moment. For the final three minutes of the exercise he combines a counting and breathing technique - Mindful Counting Excercise - that, among other things, cultivates qualities of the Self in the Internal Family Systems. Lucky us, Dana has agreed to write a guest post on this topic, maybe two as I think it presents some very interesting tools that we can use to self-empower our healing.

The usual daily features on PARASITES OF THE MIND will be suspended until the end of the conference.

(Photo: lunawhimsy)