We use an integrative approach to trauma healing at Peak Resilience. This means that we use trauma-informed techniques from a variety of therapies tailored to the needs of each individual client.
We also understand that adding complementary therapies to counselling can sometimes accelerate healing. We talked to Bronwyn Melville of Acubalance Wellness Clinic on how she treats clients with trauma histories and PTSD as a Traditional Chinese Medical doctor.
Please note that the following Q & A with Bronwyn is not meant as medical advice, but rather as more information you can use to make your own empowered, educated decisions regarding your wellbeing.
How do you assess trauma as a Traditional Chinese Medical doctor?
As a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I am always looking for pattern, since we diagnose based on this. No two bodies are alike, so I do an assessment with this principle in mind: no matter what the medical diagnosis (in this case PTSD), my assessment is based on the pattern of the individual.
For example: Patient A and B come to me with the same diagnosis of acute PTSD after, say, a motor vehicle accident. Patient A is thin and wiry, with very little body fat. She tends to feel cold, has a pale, sallow complexion, low energy, and low appetite. This is a very different picture than patient B who is barrel-chested with a distended belly, red face and neck, sweats easily, tend to high blood pressure and suffers from migraines. Although they have both been diagnosed with PTSD, each distinct pattern indicates a unique diagnosis and treatment principle.
TCM pattern differentiation reminds me of assessing fingerprints: only an exact match will work. Treating patient A and B with the same approach probably won’t work.
Having said that, trauma symptoms (or shock in the Heart as it’s translated in the ancient texts) results from acute emotional trauma. This causes a sudden impediment of blood flow, traditionally explained as severe Qi and Blood stasis of the heart. In Chinese Medicine theory, movement is health, stagnation is pain. Many patients share that their trauma and grief cause immense physical pain, often in the sternum and just below it; not surprisingly, right around the heart.
What is your biggest priority in treating people who have experienced trauma?
My primary goal in treating trauma is to guide my patient’s body into a state of parasympathetic stimulation. As you know, our bodies are wired, thank-goodness, for survival. One of the mechanisms we have for our continued survival is the sympathetic nervous system, popularly known as the “fight-or-flight” response.
When you are confronted by any threatening situation, several mechanisms jump into action: all blood flow rushes to your extremities to help you run, your pupils dilate, your heart rate accelerates, lungs dilate to take in more oxygen, essentially preparing you to run.
This is very handy when you’re in danger, but with trauma, your body remembers the danger and responds chronically as though it were current, sometimes long after safety has been reached.
Acupuncture, and no one really knows why this is the case, switches your nervous system over to the parasympathetic pathway, reversing the stress response by bringing blood flow back to your core.
Your heart rate slows down, your digestion improves, sleep normalizes. This is the “rest and digest” state.
As I mentioned, the body remembers; trauma can be squarely lodged in the tissues, which is why I use body-work to help release those restrictions (places where the Qi has stagnated in response to a sudden shocking often terrifying situation). Again, movement is health, stagnation is pain.
How long does it take for people to see a change in how they feel?
With a blend of acupuncture and CranioSacral therapy, I expect my patients to experience a reduction in symptoms immediately. Typically, they will feel better right after the session. The relief will probably last several hours, and possibly the rest of the day.
Their sleep will also be better that first night, but often the symptoms return the following day or perhaps two days later. With subsequent sessions, the remission should last longer and longer.
My hope is to have a patient come in one week after a session and say they haven’t had a symptoms since their last visit. Ideally I like to see this resolution happen within 6 weekly treatments, not only for PTSD, but also anxiety and panic.
Read about one patient's journey healing from PTSD and Postpartum Depression and Anxiety using Acupuncture and CranioSacral Therapy.
Here is a systematic review of various studies examining the effectiveness of acupuncture for PTSD. Or an older study on how CranioSacral Therapy helped Vietnam vets with PTSD.