Trauma Training Tip
The summer is a great time to think about the Fire Element, the ventral vagus nerve and the critical role that acupuncturists can play in this piece of East-meets-West physiology. Western neurophysiology looks to the ventral vagus for many of the functions that an acupuncturist looks to in the Fire Element. Both East and West name our capacity to look at each other with soft eyes, understand the subtleties of meaning in speech, communicate emotional nuance with facial expression and voice tone, and light up our face when we feel loved as functions of the Fire Element and the ventral vagus nerve.
We humans require community for our survival. We are meant to be tribal animals. Treating the Fire Element enhances our capacity for engagement with others – including our ability to collaborate with others in a community response to a common threat, and to seek out and find people to help mitigate our arousal in low-level threat.
Acupuncturists who are able to restore balance and regulation to the officials of the Fire Element help their patients engage more easily with others, think more clearly, and access their memories. These survivors will make more inclusive and thoughtful choices in their interpersonal relationships and social discourse. Safety, social engagement, and our frontal cortex together bridge our inner self with the outer world.
Acupuncture can be such an important piece of the fabric of healing for trauma survivors.
Alaine’s Two Cents
Exciting news. My book – The Tao of Trauma: A Provider’s Guide to Five Element Theory and Trauma Healing is now available for preorder!
Here’s a thumbnail of what you will find in it: Experts in Eastern and Western trauma physiology, clinician-educators Alaine Duncan and Kathy Kain combine their expertise to introduce a new map for body-oriented clinicians to help restore balance in their patients. Using concepts of Acupuncture and Asian Medicine, alongside Western biobehavioral science’s description of the threat response, they describe common physical symptoms, emotional presentations, and routes for healing of five survivor “types.”
This ancient/modern integrative lens illuminates the diverse manifestations of traumatic stress in its survivors – chronic pain, autoimmune illness, insomnia, metabolic problems, and mental health disorders – and brings new hope to survivors of trauma and those who treat them.
In their first book together, Duncan and Kain provide clues to understanding and transforming the clinical and social impact of unresolved trauma in our homes, with our patients, and on the streets.
Check This Out!
Here’s a brief and fun musical lesson on the Polyvagal Theory. The Polyvagal Blues was performed by “The Keynoters” as part of Stephen Porges’ presentation at the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology conference in Reston, VA, May 30, 2015. www.energypsych.org
Where is your clinical curiosity carrying you?
Send me a question or two and I will explore them with readers in this corner next month.
Q. My patient has a very hard time focusing on herself and her own experience during treatment. She’s very “chatty”, but it doesn’t feel like she’s really connecting with me – just avoiding connecting with her own inner experience. How can I help her?
A. Great question! Your instincts about wanting her to focus on her own embodied experience will be very helpful to her in the long run. If she experienced some highly volatile experiences, ones that created a sense of alarm in her tissues, especially if she experienced them as an infant or young child – it may be very challenging for her to direct her attention to her inner reality.
It is important to not push or force her to shift her awareness. It could easily turn into its opposite – re-creating the experience that created the original sense of alarm.
She may be able to comfortably notice things outside of her body – and a sense of general preference. “Do you want the sheet or the blanket over you? Do you like the blue blanket or the green one?”
Don’t ask her for embodied awareness – just for a sense of her preference. It’s too activating to ask her where she notices her awareness in her tissues. This is a beginning step in cultivating a relationship with herself and her awareness. Don’t make it heavy or intimate – just a simple curiosity.
Another line of questioning could be — “As you are talking, I am wondering – are you more comfortable (or do you have a preference) for me to be here on your left or over here on your right? How about with my chair here, or here?”
She is being asked to reflect, but not to necessarily go to her body. You can increase the level of body awareness in your questions as she becomes more comfortable with noticing these kinds of things.