Intensive Trauma Therapy
- A Different Approach to the Treatment of
Trauma and Dissociative Disorders –
Who Is Affected By Trauma?
Chances are that whoever you are, you or someone
you know has been affected by trauma. To put
it simply, the scary, painful and yucky stuff
that happens is what trauma is made of. Often,
people believe that trauma always pertains
to war. Though war is definitely traumatic,
are other events that can have the same effect
on us. Verbal, emotional, physical or sexual
abuse, being the victim of or witnessing a
violent crime, responding to a horrific emergency
natural disasters, and car accidents are some
examples of traumatic events. We all know the
stories. Those of people we know-- they may
be family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, clients,
movie stars, musicians, athletes, and people
on the evening news. Some of us know the stories
all too well, because those stories are our
As one who has been through a number of different
types of traumatic experiences, I know that
hope is the most expensive necessity of life.
For people living
with the effects of trauma, it is precious and often rare. The account I
now share is one of hope. I want to share this
hope with you, because recovery
is possible. This is the information that I wish I had had when I was on
the other side; trying to find the courage
to get out of bed in the morning, trying
to find the desire to stay alive.
What Does Trauma Do?
Different people respond to trauma in different
ways: anxiety, depression, mood swings, self-destructive
behavior, flashbacks, numbness and phobias
are a few examples. I did not understand that
this was because of the neurological effect
that trauma has on the brain. I thought that
I was damaged goods, irreparably broken because
something was wrong with me. I was ashamed
of myself. I thought that I was ‘wimpy’ and
was being overly emotional and self-consumed.
I thought that I was simply allowing the past
to bother me too much and that I needed to
just get over it. I felt guilty for my pain.
I did not understand that trauma can have an
effect on the brain that is physiological. This
effect is not because of a weakness in the person
anymore than it is a weakness in a person that
causes a bruise when one’s thumb is hit with
When something traumatic happens, the left side
of the brain is temporarily out of commission.
This is the side that usually helps us make sense
of events in an orderly, organized manner. This
is the side that lets us know what is in the
past, what is going on now, and what is in the
future. It is also the side we rely on for solving
problems. With this side of the brain temporarily
out of the action, the right side of the brain
stores the memory. One problem is that, to the
right side of the brain, all time is here and
now. That can cause a lot of problems when it
comes to feeling as if a trauma that happened
15 or 50 years ago continues to be experienced
in the brain as though it is going on now. That
is why time does not heal all wounds.
The right side of the brain stores traumatic
memories in bits and pieces instead of storing
it in the logical, linear way the left brain
does. All of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes,
and stimulus information are stored without the
story. Unfortunately, this can set up even non-threatening
stimuli associated with the trauma like so many
land-mines waiting to go off when the stimulus
is encountered in the future.
The ramifications of these factors can have terrible
effects on the life of the trauma survivor. They
can reach into every area of an individual’s
life because they can change how the person views
objects, events, circumstances, him/herself,
others, and the world at large. These results
can be bewildering to the person and to those
around him or her.
How is Trauma Often Treated?
The traditional way to do therapy is to encourage
the people to talk about their problems. This
is often right, good and necessary. However,
it is crucial
to remember that the left side of the brain is affected by trauma. Knowing
that it is the side responsible for helping us tell a story in words, using
talk therapy to process a trauma is like asking a person with a broken leg
to walk to the hospital in order to get the broken bone set.
By the time I was 33 years old I had been in counseling for 16 years with various
counselors off and on; but mostly on. In 1996, I was misdiagnosed as having
bipolar affective disorder, because of the mood swings that I was experiencing
as a result of my traumas. There were times that life became so intolerable
that I ended up in hospitals where few, if any, tools were used besides medication.
A few times I even braved group therapy, though trust issues normally prevented
me from doing so willingly. I was a dedicated client, rarely missed appointments,
shared honestly, followed as best I could whatever suggestions my therapist
would offer, took the many and various medications that I was prescribed at
any given time, read, and educated myself. Through all this time, money, effort
and pain, the best point I ever reached was one of a tolerant endurance of
life. My lack of benefit from treatment and the frustration I saw and sensed
in those treating me confirmed my sense of shame, guilt, and desperate frustration.
Emotional Effects of Trauma
Throughout this time of struggle I frequently felt out of control. I would
feel emotions intensely and long for a break from them. At other times, I
would feel completely numb and shut-off and long to feel again. I was frantic
to connect with someone because I felt so disconnected from myself. I was
desperate for someone to fix me, because nothing I tried seemed to yield
much benefit. At times, I was morbidly depressed and could barely get out
of bed. Sometimes I felt like I was walking around in a fog observing life
from the outside. I was often terribly anxious and wanted to be alone in
order not to have to face others.
I felt as if there was a vacuum hooked up to my heart that was sucking all
of the life out of me. I felt horrible most of the time; feeling good scared
me, because it made those times of feeling bad--which always managed to come
back--that much more disappointing. In my shame I believed that others could
tell that I was especially defective and I hated how, I assumed, they could
see through me. Others would tell me how much I had it together; then I would
grieve that no one truly knew me. Life was a river of mindless contradictions
and I was swept along in those rapids. I did not know how much longer I could
go on. I saw not committing suicide as avoiding the inevitable.
Spiritual Effects of Trauma
Quiet moments were not quiet because of all the noise inside my racing mind.
I could not remember ever feeling peaceful. I felt like God had forgotten
me. I felt like my prayers were not heard and that I was a horrible person
because of my lack of faith. I wanted to feel close to God, but I was terrified
to feel intimate with anyone in any way, because of my traumas. Because authority
had been abused in my life, the idea of One who has so much power was horrifying,
but then again, if He had so much power why was He allowing this pain? Again,
I would hate myself for my lack of faith, which I assumed was the reason
that I was not being healed.
Physical Effects of Trauma
The various traumas took their toll on my body. My body became accustomed to
surging adrenaline at the least bit of stimulation. My heart would pound,
my pulse would race, my mind would go foggy, and I would feel out of control
over and over again at such simple things as hearing the doorbell or telephone
ring or when passing a car on the highway. The sense of feeling incompetent
was not ‘all in my head.’ It was in every part of me. I could feel it acutely
day and night. I, unknowingly, had become addicted to the adrenal response
and was seeking out drama and danger in order to sustain the highs. Sound
sleep came seldom, unless I was completely exhausted and then I would get
sick because my immune system was so compromised.
Relational Effects of Trauma
Being an adrenaline junkie was draining on emotions, not just my own, but on
those of people who cared about me. At times, friends could not take anymore,
and people moved. Such experiences would call back memories of earlier abandonment
and I would be sent reeling. Life seemed like a never-ending cycle of pain.
Effects of Trauma on Work and School
Work of any kind was accomplished only with great difficulty. I was, as I said,
often sick; focus was hard to achieve. I experienced desperate struggles in
every area of my life, yet I felt like I was fighting with both hands tied
behind my back.
Intensive Trauma Therapy
Finally, a counselor recommended that I go to Intensive Trauma Therapy in Morgantown,
West Virginia. She said that they knew how to treat trauma better than she
did. Because I had been suicidal for the 18 months before, I was willing
to do anything. But, I had several questions and concerns.
I had become quite attached to my counselor and it was difficult to think about
doing treatment with someone else. I did not know the staff at ITT but I
learned they have a team approach to treatment. If I would be able to really
connect with one therapist, I was still going to be working with others.
As it turns out, the point of a team approach to treatment is that I am part
of the team, as well. Through the use of a treatment team, the focus stays
on processing the traumas, rather than on the relationship between the counselor
and the client. I found that all the treatment team members are especially
trained to treat trauma. They did not find my symptoms or distress unusual
in the least and they did not believe that I was being overly sensitive.
I was hoping to give them some inkling of how trauma had affected me. Instead,
they were able to show me how everything I was experiencing is actually quite
normal for having been through trauma.
(IITT) Individual Intensive Trauma Therapy
Although I recognized the need to do intensive work (one or two weeks of day-long
treatment), I did not know how I could do this in an outpatient program. I
felt like I might be safer in an inpatient facility. My fears were soon relieved.
Through the first day of treatment I was taught actual, practical, effective
skills that helped me to be safe with myself.
When I considered the time away from home and
the cost of the program, as compared to the
past 16 years I had spent on medication, counseling,
lost effectiveness, and pain, I realized that I could not afford not to go.
What I soon realized was that the cost of hoping again was what was holding
me back. I heard about ITT treatment and the great benefit it had been in
the lives of others, but I felt like none of
the rules that were supposed to apply
in life had ever applied to me. Life was not fair. How could I have 100%
proof that this treatment would work for me?
There was simply no certainty about
the benefits of going, but I was certain that life could not go on like it
was. I realized that I had nothing to lose. I decided to go to ITT.
What Is ITT Like?
Treatment at ITT was far different from treatment I had experienced before.
The staff was kind and knowledgeable. They were open and gladly explained
treatment to me as I went through it. I had a sense that I was a participant
on the treatment team. It was clear that the therapists had a game plan,
an understanding of the effects of trauma, and skills in reversing those
effects. They helped me understand why I was experiencing particular symptoms.
Moreover, they knew how to treat those symptoms through the use of art therapy
and integrative tools. They helped me to help my right brain finish the story
in a way that my left brain never would have been able to do. There was finally
a sense of completion. Once and for all, I felt like the past was the past.
What had felt so disordered within me was finally given order. Doing intensive
work on trauma at ITT was exhausting, but it was the type of exhaustion that
comes from accomplishment, not from frustration.
Benefits of ITT Treatment
I can honestly say that going to ITT was one of the best decisions that I have
made in my life. I cannot imagine what life would be like now if I had not
gone. Through treatment at ITT and post-trauma recovery work, I am now medication-free,
I am no longer dissociative, and traumatic memories do not intrude into my
mind. Of course, I can still remember the traumatic experiences, but the live,
overwhelming, negative emotions that used to sweep me away are no longer present.
I am not fearful of life and I look forward to each new day with confidence
There is so much that trauma treatment gave me--more than I had the courage
to hope for. I feel a sense of self-possession. I feel like I am in control,
because I finally feel like I can calm and reassure myself when difficult stressors
happen. I have a sense of being complete and am not dependent on others to
fix me or make me feel safe. I finally feel safe with others and myself. Quiet
is quiet and peaceful is peaceful. Now feels like now and the past actually
feels like it has passed. I can sort out my thoughts from my feelings.
Since attending ITT, I was able to complete a Master’s degree in counseling,
and am now a professional counselor in the state of Ohio in private practice.
I thank God everyday for the work of trauma treatment and its benefit in my
life. I am privileged to see these benefits daily in the lives of those I am
able to help after having trained at ITT. It is a joy to see the light come
on in the eyes of clients as they process traumas from their own lives. The
word that most accurately sums up the effect of trauma treatment is one that
I hear regularly from my clients – FREEDOM.
If you know someone who has been through trauma, please let them know that
there is effective help available. If you have been through trauma yourself,
the good news is that you have survived, and the best news is that, with the
proper treatment, you can thrive!