For Trauma, Insight is not Enough

I usually get up pretty early in the morning to get some reading in for the day. I found myself re-reading Bessel van der Kolk’s classic work on trauma, “The Body Keeps the Score,” for about the 6th time! If I were going to recommend one book for folks to read about the effects of trauma, this would be the one. It is very readable for the lay person and filled with information that helps one to understand why traumatized people do what they do.

One of the problems I recognized early on in treating people with trauma, and especially adults who experienced early childhood trauma due to neglect and/or abuse, is that an intellectual understanding of why they have the issues they have was not enough for them to change in any significant way. It was clear that something deeper was going on that needed to be addressed. Van der Kolk writes about this:

Psychologists usually try to help people use insight and understanding to manage their behavior. However, neuroscience research shows that very few psychological problems are the result of defects in understanding; most originate in pressures from deeper regions in the brain that drive our perception and attention. When the alarm bell of the emotional brain keeps signaling that you are in danger, no amount of insight will silence it. I am reminded of the comedy in which a seven-time recidivist in an anger-management program extols the virtue of the techniques he’s learned: “they are great and work terrific — as long as you are not really angry” (p 64).

This is precisely why ILF neurofeedback is so amazing for treating trauma. It goes after the “out of whack” functional neurobiology generated by trauma. We do not spend years trying to figure out what happened and why the traumatized person is doing what he/she is doing. We do not spend many difficult months of a two-steps-forward-one-step-back process of making “good” decisions to “fix” the problem. Nope, we don’t go there, because it is very inefficient and largely ineffective. Plus, cognitive or exposure approaches tend to retraumatize; most people cannot tolerate such approaches.

Instead, using ILF neurofeedback, we let your brain teach itself how to self-regulate, how to bring itself back to a more functional set point. All the symptoms of trauma usually dissolve as the brain reorganizes the avenues of communication between the emotional drivers and the regulators of the emotions. The best part is that this is done in a benign way that does not require exposure to the trauma or even talking about it. It is also fairly quick compared to more traditional methods.

So insight and understanding are nice from an intellectual perspective, but the person will still be stuck with the symptoms of trauma, especially the triggering. The person will know why they are the way they are, but when things get rough, when stress creeps in, the symptoms of trauma that brought them to therapy in the first place will re-emerge.

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