By Paul Hughes
The tragedy that has befallen Japan in the wake of the Tsunami has captured the world’s attention, and I am again reminded of the long-term fallout that occurs in the wake of such tragedies; namely, an epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).It is still a common belief that trauma cannot be healed–only managed. However, I would like to assert that not only can trauma be healed, in many cases it can be healed without long hours of therapy, painful reliving of memories, or a continued reliance on medication. Until recently, unresolved trauma (often referred to as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD), was thought to be a mental disease. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks, insomnia, psychosomatic complaints, lack of openness, violent unprovoked rage, and repetitive destructive behaviors. However, researchers are beginning to understand what Vivation Professionals have known for a long time, that post-traumatic stress is caused by blocked physical and emotional energies in the body.
Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger, has done an outstanding job in explaining in simple terms both the cause of traumatic disorders and their sources of healing. According to Levine, the process starts when extremely intense survival energy, mobilized during a dramatic event, gets trapped in the body. When sufficient fear overwhelms the nervous systems flight or fight response, the result is the physical “survival” energy getting trapped or “frozen” in the body. This freezing is actually a natural and common response in the animal kingdom, and has certain advantages when an animal faces imminent death. This “freezing” response is what prey often do in the wild when captured by a predator. When an animal freezes in terror, they either do not feel the pain of being eaten, or the predator thinks they are dead and will possibly leave them alone for later consumption. As can sometimes happen, the animal will see an opening, get up, shake off the frozen energy and make a run for it.
PTSD happens in humans when we don’t mobilize this frozen energy back to life as soon as we are safe; the trauma energy is now frozen in the body. The cure then is not reliving the traumatic memories, but simply learning how to feel the feelings and sensations in the body, in a neutral, safe environment. By allowing the feelings to simply be felt as intense energy, without the emotional charge of fear, Vivation heals trauma. Although Vivation is used for healing all kinds of negative emotions, Vivation is uniquely suited to healing trauma in all its forms, because Vivation works directly at the same feeling level where the emotional and survival energies are stored. One important contribution to Vivation was a breathwork process called Rebirthing, created by Leonard Orr, which was so powerful that even the most fundamental trauma – birth trauma – could be cured. However, Rebirthing was often intense, painful and scary for people because there was little training in modulating the experience or focusing on the feelings themselves. Participants might spend 20 or 30 minutes in discomfort before “integrating” or resolving a negative feeling. With Vivation, the intensity is easily controlled, resulting in a far more gentle and efficient process. Many integrations typically occur in every Vivation session. Vivation is efficient because we recognize that it is not the intensity of the feeling that matters, but more importantly, the subtle details or fidelity of the feeling. Any suppressed feeling, no matter how intense originally, can be integrated while still subtle. Peter Levine too understands the importance of subtlety in his work.
I commend Peter Levine for articulating the process of trauma in scientific terms. As a result, we now recognize the central role of the body in trauma, as well as the psychological aspect, providing a more comprehensive understanding of the root causes of PTSD. However, to my knowledge Levine has not yet heard of Vivation. Working independently, Levine developed his own process called Somatic Experiencing. So far they have discovered the importance of feeling the sensations in the body, but the other very useful elements we use in Vivation are still missing. In Levine’s work there is little or no mention yet of the momentous role of breath (1st Element), the all-important relaxation response (2nd Element), and the profound healing power of integration (4th element) that we teach in Vivation. The good news is that more people with PTSD are learning Vivation and reaping the benefits of a new life free of all PTSD symptoms. I have no doubt that as more trauma survivors experience the benefits of Vivation, it will become the modality of choice for people suffering form PTSD.