Monday, March 28, 2011


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may occur soon after a major trauma or it can be delayed for more than 6 months after the event. When the condition occurs soon after the trauma, it usually gets better after 3 months. However, some people have a longer-term form of PTSD, which can last for many years.

PTSD can occur at any age and can follow a natural disaster such as a flood or fire, or events such as war, a prison stay, assault, domestic abuse, or rape. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States of America may have caused PTSD in some people who were involved, in people who saw the disaster, and in people who lost relatives and friends. These kinds of events can produce stress in anyone, but not everyone develops PTSD.

“People take drugs to make their pain disappear, cut themselves, starve themselves, have sex once - you  have these horrible sensations just to make it go away," said Dr Bessel van der Kolk (pictured below), one of the world's leading trauma experts, on the topic during a recent conference on trauma and brain science at UCLA

"If these last long enough, your whole brain reacts. People learn to shut off the sensations in their bodies. We're also beginning to understand why traumatized people have such a hard time with mindfulness, because they cannot feel. People think trauma has something to do with out there. But the only thing that matters is now. Trauma is the residue of what those experiences leave in your body. It's the physical sensations that become intolerable, and you fight to make them go away."

The body - and not just the mind - contains memories, holds them, processes them in what ways it can, stores them and remembers them. As this memory storage develops, the neurons associated with the memory connect to other neural pathways in the body. The memories extend to other experiences. Seemingly unrelated events or situations can become triggers, for trauma does not exist in a relegated and circumscribed time and space continuum. Rather, it exists in the body and in the pathways it creates in the brain's neural networks.

It is now becoming increasingly clear that one effective way to deal with trauma is through the practice of mindfulness. The imprint of trauma lies in the central part of the brain. Being mindful helps untangle the sense of disorganization, or chaos, in the brain's relationship to itself. It helps re-establish coherent connections between the prefrontal cortex, which is the most "conscious" part of our brains, with the other, more primitive parts where trauma is stored, such as the limbic system. In short, the act of becoming more aware of each passing moment, with whatever emotions it contains, helps us control our emotional responses - which is what gets thrown out of line by trauma.

"Meditation and mindfulness can change all these things," van der Kolk said. "To feel yourself, to notice yourself."

Source: Oakland Effect: Why mindfulness matters

Scott Johnson Oakland Tribune
Posted: 03/27/2011 12:00:00 AM PDT All Rights Reserved

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