Treating Symptoms vs. Healing Anxiety, Stress & Trauma

What’s the Difference?

doctorWhat I read about helping people with anxiety, stress and trauma focuses mostly on the treatment model. Treating symptoms of anxiety, stress and trauma typically includes using tools such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication, and is typical of the Western medical model. The goal of the treatment paradigm is to reduce, relieve or eliminate symptoms. The outcome of the treatment model is helping people live normal lives in which they are able to “cope” with whatever stress and trauma they have.

The diseasing/medical paradigm often leaves people feeling bad about themselves–weak, helpless, hopeless, powerless and broken–VICTIMS! With such negative views about one’s Self, the likelihood of even reducing your symptoms is a challenge!

How The Healing Paradigm Works

The healing paradigm is quite different from the treatment paradigm. Its goal is to identify the underlying causes of anxiety, stress and trauma and then address problems at their source. The outcome of the healing paradigm is transformation, using a step-by-step approach to help you leave the “suffering reality” and victim consciousness, to create a new reality that doesn’t include “coping” or suffering.

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I often think of healing anxiety, stress and trauma as an “archeology” process in which people work through their issues and problems in layers–sort of like peeling an onion. This step-by-step approach, of course, takes time and patience. It’s also complex because it involves changing neurobiological and behavioral programs by gradually rewiring the brain, and building a stronger internal sense of Self. Diving into memories of early childhood trauma and reprocessing them is a delicate operation, one that needs to be done gently, slowly, in a person’s own timing. Otherwise the healing process just retraumatizes people and does harm, which is against mental health professionals’ ethics..

The Explosion of Awareness About the Healing Paradigm

Awareness about the healing paradigm is growing exponentially, for several reasons. The first is due to the explosion of information about trauma, particularly developmental trauma and other kinds of adverse childhood experiences. The more that we know about trauma, the more that the data indicates that anxiety, depression and panic disorders and the freak-out episodes are NOT diseases or mental illness.

The research indicates that these things are the result of trauma, particularly childhood or developmental trauma. Trauma is about “what happened to me” rather than “what’s wrong with me.” So there’s no shaming, no diseasing and no stigma–just a need for support, caring and targeted tools to help clear it from the nervous system and rewire the brain.

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The second reason for the explosion happening in the healing paradigm is due to the number of effective tools that really heal developmental and other kinds of early childhood trauma. And that’s because the research shows that relational trauma the primary cause. Relational trauma is typically anchored in a child’s attachment with the mother during the first year of life. Here’s one of our videos that explains relational trauma in more depth.

Steps in Healing Developmental/Relational Trauma

The first step is connecting the dots between what happened to you in your childhood and any problems you might be having in your adult life, such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder or struggles to establish and maintain intimate relationships.

The second step is finding social and emotional support. This can take several forms. Joining a support group, either live or online, getting therapy, talking with close friends or siblings about the traumatic things that happened to you. The goal of this step is to let go of family secrets and to share honestly and truthfully about the impact that your adverse childhood experiences have had on you–as a person, as a parent, as a partner, as a co-worker. Discovering that you’re not alone in your pain and suffering has a huge impact on clearing away the sense of isolation that accompanies developmental trauma.

The third step is doing inner work to rebuild your understanding of who you are as a person. This can involve journaling and reading other people’s stories about their traumatic childhoods and how they’ve overcome their trauma. The goal of this step is to learn the skill of self-reflection, to be able to witness or observe yourself–also known as mindfulness.

Once you are able to be self-reflective, the next step is learning how to self-correct. This skill allows you to identify points in your life where you have a choice: you can react or respond based on old behavior patterns, or you can make a different choice. Recognizing these “doorways” or “crossroads” moments in your life is freeing! Here you realize that YOU are in charge of your future, not the voices & behaviors from your past, from your childhood.

How to Find a Healing Paradigm Counselor

Healing anxiety, stress and trauma hasn’t been a big focus in the fields of psychology and counseling. First of all, the healing paradigm isn’t taught in all counselor training programs. So it’s important to find out a mental health professional’s clinical orientation by interviewing them before you actually sign on with them. Ask if they have a healing orientation, if they’ve done their own work (this is really important!!), and what kind of healing orientation they use. Ask if they include the body in their work–brain function, body awareness, physical health symptoms, movement. What you’re looking for is someone who works with the whole person . . . the MindBody. Here are some other questions suggested by psychcentral.com that you should ask a prospective therapist:

If you find someone you’d like to work with as a counselor, begin with a contract for 3 – 6 sessions. Identify specific goals and outcomes that you want to accomplish, and notice if your therapist follows your wish list. At the end of your contract, request an assessment of your progress based on the goals that you set. Then notice how your therapist reacts to your efforts to direct your therapy, and pay attention to how you feel both physically and emotionally to their reaction. Remember, the most important part of healing issues associated with anxiety, stress and trauma is the relationship with your therapist.

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