HELP WITH POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS (PTSD)

Mental health professionals - myself included - have been off-base for years in how we've addressed posttraumatic stress, pushing people to talk about their traumatic experiences right from the start, before self-soothing skills are in place, and, in many cases actually making matters worse instead of better. Happily, times have changed, new information is out there, and many of us know better now. This is the focus of my new book, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal.

Posttraumatic stress (PTSD) can be from old wounds from childhood abuse or from a recent traumatic event. Regardless of whether it came from a tornado, a car crash, combat or domestic violence, symptoms are essentially the same: flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, sleep and concentration problems, anxiety, panic attacks, emotional and even physical numbness, mental confusion, memory impairment, (sometimes amnesia), shame, grief, anguish, fury, irritability, temper, estrangement, alienation and loneliness. If the symptoms go away after 3 -6 months, it's called acute stress disorder or ASD. If it sticks around for longer, it "graduates" to posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD. People can accumulate a condition called vicarious trauma too, from just watching or hearing about terrible things happening to others.

It turns out that the biochemistry of survival that floods the bloodstream during trauma actually impedes language and cognition, while pumping up the more primitive parts of the brain that process images, sensations, perceptions, emotions and kinetic movement. THIS is where therapists need to start - with these mid-brain and brain stem processes - before enlisting the higher cortical functioning involved in "talking about it". And, very simply, that's why imagery - which is all about images, sensation, perception, emotion and kinesthetics - is a best practice and treatment of choice for healing posttraumatic stress.

As the unique value of guided imagery for healing posttraumatic stress (PTSD) becomes more and more widely known, we are increasingly asked which guided imagery tape or CD would work best for healing PTSD - to help ground people back into their bodies, get some sleep, reduce numbing, help with self-soothing when flashbacks or nightmares rear their ugly heads, assist with resolving stored emotional fear and pain, and promote a return to day-to-day confidence.

Our imagery for Healing Trauma (PTSD) fills the bill for help with most of these issues over time, and, in my opinion, it's just about the most potent and sophisticated imagery we offer. It starts by gently escorting the listener's awareness back down into the body (because most posttraumatic stress survivors don't spend enough time 'home' in their bodies), then moves into exploring the territory of his/her own broken heart, which ultimately leads to the discovery of his/her deepest core, the part of the self that can never be diminished or destroyed.

But this potent healing guided imagery is designed to de-numb the listener and evoke feelings - an important part of the healing - but for many posttraumatic stress survivors, this is not easy. Because of this, some people do well to start with simpler, mood-regulating imagery first, so that a baseline of self-soothing skills are in place before moving on to the intensity and depth of the PTSD imagery. Andy Weil's or Ken Cohen's breath work meditation audios are wonderful for this. In addition, people do well with our Relaxation & Wellness ; Relieve Stress ; or Affirmations imagery.

If the posttraumatic stress (PTSD) has to do with incest or childhood sexual abuse, I also recommend Peter Levine's excellent audio, Sexual Healing, which offers four gentle, safe guided meditations for those with a traumatic sexual history.

In addition, for a general energizing, relaxing experience designed to ground the listener and encourage reconnecting with the body, Suzanne Scurlock Durana's program, Healing from the Core, is just the ticket, masterfully taught and easy to follow.

Other trauma-related imagery of would be for Healthful Sleep ; Ease Grief ; Combat Depression ; or Anger & Forgiveness. And for spiritual uplift, I heartily recommend Lynne Newman's beautiful Song of the Soul. For a complete guide to how, when and why to use imagery to heal trauma, my new book, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal, is a good resource.

Other things trauma survivors can use to help with their healing are counseling (with someone who understands trauma), support groups, information about the nature of trauma and what it does to you, medication (especially the SSRI's), prayer & ritual, relaxation & attunement skills, physical exercise or moving meditation, journaling or other forms of self expression, energy or body work and many of the imagery-based "alphabet therapies", such as EMDR, EFT, SE, TIR and the like.

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