These somatically based therapies for chronic illness are designed to work with the nervous system and are not about will power, “positive thinking,” managing an illness, or healing through life style changes and behavior changes. Many of these things can help, but for many with chronic disease they are insufficient, ineffective or even harmful (updated October 2020).
In this post, you’ll learn a little about the science, benefits of these approaches, and why these therapies include the body and not only the mind.
The subsequent sections will give you lists of some of these approaches and therapies for chronic illness, links to databases to help you find a therapist in your area and ways of working on your own that include videos and online courses.
First are general approaches that offer a good place to start, including when you have no known history of trauma (adversities of all kinds can trigger the cell danger response and nervous system perceptions of threat, including infections, a difficult birth, and minor accidents etc).
The final sections give you specific approaches for working with specific types of trauma such as attachment trauma, multigenerational or childhood trauma, abuse and more.
You can download this entire post and its companion post that presents the best books for working with and understanding trauma, including books for working on your own.
Table of Contents
- Introduction to Therapies for Chronic Illness
- Exercises for Working on Your Own
- Include the Body
- Links to Find a Therapist
- General Trauma, AIEs, ACEs & APOEs
- Adverse Childhood Experiences Plus (ACEs+)
- Adverse Childhood Relationship Experiences (ACREs)
- Adverse Multigenerational Experiences (AMEs)
- Adverse Babyhood Experiences (ABEs)
- How to Choose a Therapist
- Online Courses & Videos for Working on Your Own
- Other Approaches & Resources
- What’s your experience been?
- Learn More
Get the Blog Post & Free Resource List
The forms will appear momentarily. The Post PDF is for this blog post on therapies and the companion post on books I recommend for different categories of adversity. The List is a short summary of these resources.
Introduction to Therapies for Chronic Illness
Trauma and subtle perceptions of threat influence risk for chronic illness and other problems because life experiences interact with our genes to shape long-term health. Therapies for chronic illness and other symptoms work with brain plasticity and these changes in how our genes express themselves can sometimes be reversed (1)Yehuda, R., et al. (2013). “Epigenetic Biomarkers as Predictors and Correlates of Symptom Improvement Following Psychotherapy in Combat Veterans with PTSD.” Front Psychiatry 4: 118.
The approaches support a nervous system that operates from subtle perceptions of threat and are helpful whether or not you have a known history of trauma.
Even though practitioners of somatic approaches are usually psychotherapists, these approaches are specialized ways of working and incorporate a different foundation of training, understanding and skills than regular psychotherapies.
Therapies listed here are somatically based approaches for healing the cell danger response and its effects, which drive autoimmune and over a 100 other chronic diseases (2)Naviaux, R. K. (2014). “Metabolic features of the cell danger response.” Mitochondrion 16: 7-17 (3)Naviaux, R. K., et al. (2016). “Metabolic features of chronic fatigue syndrome.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
They are about addressing nervous system states of fight, flight, freeze and physiological processes linked to perceptions of threat.
And they are powerful new tools for addressing symptoms of chronic illness while emphasizing these diseases are neither psychological nor “all in your head.”
The approaches introduced here can be used in combination with other tools (medical treatment, medication, complementary and alternative health care, diet, mindfulness, meditation, vagal stimulation etc).
They can help you make sense of why one thing works and another does not, why sometimes an approach works for a while and later does not and more.
These therapies for chronic illness can also make other modalities more effective.
And they support healing when nothing else works.
This page gives you a sense of which approaches might be a good fit for you, offer tips on how to find and choose a therapist, and give you insights to help you find other approaches that appeal to you even if they aren’t listed here.
These somatic therapies for chronic illness support healing trauma can
- repair and resolve nervous system survival patterns that change our physiology and increase risk for chronic disease
- reverse epigenetic changes (4)Yehuda, R., et al. (2013). “Epigenetic Biomarkers as Predictors and Correlates of Symptom Improvement Following Psychotherapy in Combat Veterans with PTSD.” Front Psychiatry 4: 118
- cure asthma (5)Madrid, A. (2005). “Helping children with asthma by repairing maternal-infant bonding problems.” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 48(3-4): 199-211 and improve (6)Nakazawa, D. J. (2015). Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal. New York City, Atria Books or cure (7)Wolynn, M. (2016). It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle, Penguin, (8)Doidge, N. (2015). The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity Viking Adult autoimmune disease, at least for some people, some of the time.
You can read how these approaches are helping make sense of my own chronic illness and gradually recover here. Learn more about the different types of trauma listed below and more in the Essential Guide to Chronic Illness, Trauma, and the Nervous System. And find books for chronic illness recovery, which was once part of this post.
Note that the therapies listed below are not only relevant to chronic illness but also for mental health conditions, chronic pain, addictions and other symptoms because trauma is a risk factor for all of these symptoms.
Exercises for Working on Your Own
This set of exercises by colleague and craniosacral therapist Andrew Cook in the U.K. support our nervous system’s ability to shift gears and orient to a sense of safety, which is part of how we begin to heal the effects of trauma. A similar set of exercises is taught by Steve Hoskinson of Organic Intelligence (see online courses towards the bottom of this post).
These exercises also support the branch of our autonomic nervous system that is able to inhibit fight, flight and freeze (the social nervous system is introduced in this blog post). You can practice versions of these exercises every day (and multiple times a day) as a tool in support of healing. They can be combined with anything else you do and can take just moments once you are familiar with them. They seem simple but are remarkably and deceptively powerful.
You can download Andrew’s 16 page PDF directly from his website. It’s called Positive Body Awareness. The first section explains how trauma and difficult experiences can change where our attention tends to go. This is helpful to understand. The exercises are in the second half of his paper.
Include the Body
Symptoms represent our body’s intelligent attempts to maximize our survival, so this work is not simply about getting rid of symptoms. Rather, it’s about gently helping our nervous systems recognize the trauma is over so they can access more effective coping strategies that already exist in all of us.
Many symptoms are used by the body as a defense mechanism or physiological attempt to keep a lid on things that are or have been overwhelming. This is not because it’s psychosomatic but because symptoms are driven by our nervous systems.
In this kind of work, slower is faster.
You can learn more about the nervous system in chapter 4 of the essential guide and about body-based therapies in The Guide to New Body-Centered Therapies (9)Caldwell, C., Ed. (1997). Getting in Touch: The Guide to New Body-Centered Therapies, Quest and Getting Our Bodies Back (10)Caldwell, C. (1996). Getting Our Bodies Back: Recovery, healing, and transformation through body-centered psychotherapy, Shambhala.
Links to Find a Therapist
If you have a chronic illness and no obvious history of trauma that you know of, start with therapies that work with general trauma or developmental wounds from childhood.
These general approaches all work with subtle nervous system patterns and perceptions of threat and are an excellent way to start to address symptoms of chronic illness.
If you do have a history of specific types of trauma, you’ll find therapies for different types of trauma in the section that follows and can learn more about each type of trauma in chapter 5 of my essential guide to chronic illness, trauma and the nervous system.
Explore approaches that draw or feel appealing to you.
*Note: If getting out of the house is difficult because of limitations due to your health, or if there is no one in your area to work with, you may be able to find a therapist who works by phone or internet. When treating chronic illness from a body-based perspective there are actually many ways a therapist can pay attention to what is happening in the moment and still be highly attuning, connecting and present.
**Ultimately, the best guidance on how to choose an approach among those listed below comes from listening to yourself – to your heart, your gut, your intuition. What appeals to you? What draws you or excites you or makes the most sense to you? You’ll know more as you listen and follow your impulses.
General Trauma, AIEs, ACEs & APOEs
Stressful events and trauma in the 1 to 2 years before illness can trigger the onset of a chronic illness including autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes. I refer to such events as adverse pre-onset experiences (APOEs). Adverse institutional experiences (AIEs) are also a risk factor for chronic disease.
The following chronic illness therapies are appropriate for all kinds of trauma in all age groups, including:
- hospitalizations, medical procedures such as surgery, anesthesia
- loss of a parent
- adverse childhood experiences (ACEs, see more in the next section)
- and much more
Find a Therapist for General Trauma, AIEs, ACEs+ etc
Somatic Experiencing (SE)
The founder of SE, Peter Levine Ph.D, has two excellent books in addition to the one mentioned above. Both introduce the concept of trauma in a very gentle way as well as how to work with it. These are Waking the Tiger and In an Unspoken Voice. His second book describes how he worked with his own symptoms after an accident.
Their book is called Trauma and the Body.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
EMDR is described on wikipedia; here are lists of practitioners with the EMDR Institute and practitioners with the EMDR International Association.
I loved Brainspotting but found that, with this approach in particular, I needed to work especially slowly and with small increments of time and issues.
Internal Family Systems (IFS)
Here is a 1.5 hour video session with singer songwriter Alanis Morissette working with post partum panic attacks and workaholic/overextending patterns facilitated by Richard “Dick” Schwartz, the founder of IFS. It’s 1 hour introducing IFS and working with “parts” and 30 minutes of Q&A (October, 2020).
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy
Memoirs for General Trauma and AIEs
Sexism and General Trauma
The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness: A Memoir by Sarah Ramey. One of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. A set of insights similar to the ones I’ve come to and one that will help you make sense of your illness from the new paradigm that is emerging, one chronic ill person at a time as we each figure it out and come to similar conclusions. Sharing the big picture of how life experiences (not all of them traumatic) influence health with examples from her life. A memoir with deep perspectives gained from the painful journey with chronic illness. A view that sheds light on all of our illnesses, the epidemic of chronic illness, and why they remain so overlooked.
Humorous, hard to put down, witty, told from the big perspective by someone who has found her way, come to an acceptance, sees there is no quick fix, and recognizes from deep experience that doctors don’t have the answers we think (and wish) they had, as she continues to work with all the tools she’s garnered and shares with the reader, even as she is not completely healed.
A book for men as well as women, caregivers and loved ones. Does not focus on trauma. Instead includes examples of how trauma such as accidents, abuse, medical trauma, ACEs and more can be part of a series of events that add up to affect health or that can trigger onset of mild or severe symptoms. Also provides insights into things we think are normal but that shape health too, such as infections, antibiotics, the standard american diet, and much more.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) refer very specifically to 10 types of trauma that have been extensively studied in a series of studies with more emerging every year.
These 10 types of trauma, listed below, are only a fraction of the different types of trauma that can affect long-term health but are becoming more known around the U.S. and around the world because of the quick, easy-to-take survey and the studies. I therefore refer to such events as ACEs+ (adverse childhood experiences plus).
Many of the effects of these and other traumas have been known for many decades, long before the fist ACE study in 1998, but haven’t started to become more known to some doctors, mental health professionals and in the general population more recently, including with Oprah’s segment on 60 minutes in March 2018.
The 10 types of trauma known as ACEs are:
- Physical abuse (Statistics: 1 in 3.5 Americans have experienced physical abuse)
- Sexual abuse (1 in 5)
- Emotional abuse (1 in 9)
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Loss of a parent from divorce or separation (loss for other reasons, including death, were not included in the original ACE study but also increase risk)
- Violent treatment of mother (1 in10)
- Member of household: mental illness (1 in 5)
- Member of household jailed (1 in 30)
- Member of household: substance abuse (1 in 4)
The therapies listed in the previous section are appropriate for healing effects of ACEs and other traumas from childhood. Some therapists specialize in working with specific types of trauma such as sexual abuse, substance abuse, grief and loss, PTSD or depression, etc. Look for a therapist using the list of websites and directories in the section above, Therapies for General Trauma in All Age Groups.
You can learn more about the ACEs research and increased risk for autoimmune and other chronic diseases or in a post with free downloadable ACE fact sheets to use in educating your doctor, listing over 30 chronic diseases such as type 1 & type 2 diabetes, RA, MS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, lupus and other effects of ACEs, which include fractures, osteoporosis, mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, giving birth prematurely, violence etc.
You can also download one or both of two ACE fact sheets below (one specifically for chronic illnesses, the other summarizing All effects of ACEs) to educate and inform others, such as your doctor other health care professionals, others with chronic illness, teachers, lawyers, family , friends, colleagues, social workers, and beyond.
Find a Therapist for ACEs & ACEs+ (Search section above)
Books for ACEs+
The Deepest Well, by pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris with stories and science
The ACE fact sheets are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. This means you are welcome to share and use as long as you cite me (Veronique Mead, MD MA at Chronic Illness Trauma Studies) and link to either this blog post or the ACEs Fact Sheet post as the original source.
Childhood Disrupted, by science journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa with research on stress and toxic stress, her story of improvement from autoimmune diseases and others’ stories
Through the Shadowlands, a memoir by mathematician and journalist Julie Rehmeyer, who shares her journey with chronic fatigue syndrome as well as research and studies in mold toxicity; also provides a glimpse of childhood ACEs and developmental / attachment / complex trauma (see next section)
My Beloved World, a memoir by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor which includes her diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in childhood and provides a poignant example of ACEs and multigenerational trauma
Adverse Childhood Relationship Experiences (ACREs)
Attachment trauma, which I refer to as adverse childhood relationship experiences (ACREs), is one of the most important and under-recognized forms of adversity of all – and one that plays a remarkably strong role in chronic illness. Experiences that fit into this category include some of the most subtle types of trauma and they are often normalized and overlooked. ACREs can be extremely subtle yet shape the way our nervous systems learn to perceive threat and respond to stress throughout most or all of childhoods, when our organs and bodies are developing the most rapidly and are consequently the most affected by our environments and experiences. Here’s an introductory blog post on this topic.
This type of trauma is also known as developmental trauma and complex PTSD. Victor Lee Lewis, a trauma and life coach who uses tapping (EFT or emotional freedom technique), also refers to this type of adversity as attunement trauma. He emphasizes how attunement is as vital to human survival and health as are water, food, and shelter. Dr. Jonice Webb refers to it as CEN or childhood emotional neglect.
Consider approaches for working with ACREs if:
- you felt alone, unseen, or unheard as a child,
- you did not feel a sense of connection or a loving, nurturing, supportive environment in childhood (even if you were well fed and clothed and cared for in material ways),
- you had to take care of your parent(s) or sibling(s) emotionally, physically or in other ways,
- the way to connect with your parent(s) was to suppress your own needs, opinions or feelings,
- there was no one you could talk to and share your deepest feelings when you were growing up,
- there was rarely or never any repair after a parental outburst or verbal attack,
- your relationship with your parents is strained or stressful,
- you have had difficulty in your relationships as an adult (lack of closeness; multiple marriages, separations or divorces …),
- you have strong negative beliefs such as feeling unlovable / unworthy / to blame / overly responsible / a failure / unsafe, …
These examples are indications that early relationships have had some impact on you, whether in a way that was traumatizing or that affected your perception of threat. Learn more about relational trauma in a blog post, “When your ACE score is Zero”.
Find a Therapist for ACREs
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, IPNB practitioners and Prenatal and Perinatal Therapies (see below) are especially helpful for the healing the effects of experiences such as those described above.
Their book is called Trauma and the Body
IPNB was developed by leaders in the field including Daniel Siegel, Allan Schore, and Louis Cozolino and has a therapist directory. I have not tried this particular approach but am familiar with some of Siegel and Schore’s work. I do not know of many other somatically based approaches for healing complex PTSD..
You can also learn more about IPNB on this site.
Documentary on Attachment Trauma
If you’ve ever wondered what developmental / attachment trauma can look like; whether it may be affecting you; how it influences our ability to be in relationship with ourselves, our families and our children – and whether it can be healed, this film is for you. It will shed light in a gentle, compassionate artful and well paced way.
The independent film by Ana Joanes is called “Wrestling Ghosts” because this is the biggest and most important gift parents can give to their children: their own work to heal their unresolved trauma from their own past. Wrestling Ghosts follows Kim, her husband and how she learns to reconnect with herself and her two young boys. It focuses on Kim’s experiences that include depression, a yearning to connect more fully with her kids, the influences from her past that make this so difficult, and how she also finds her way to doing something that gives her joy. The documentary is now available to rent.
Books on Attachment
Parenting from the Inside Out (this book will give you an idea of attachment trauma even if you aren’t a parent)
The Complex PTSD Workbook and A Practical Guide: Mind-Body Approaches to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole By Arielle Schwartz, Ph.D. Two books for healing attachment wounds tends to be a process that needs healing within relationship and can be among the most subtle, pervasive and lifelong processes to work with. If the book is triggering, slow down or work with a therapist if you can.
The Development of the Person: by psychologist Alan Sroufe, primary investigator of the prospective Minnesota Parent-Child study, now over 30 years long and effects of attachment disruptions and wounds
Kitchen Table Wisdom: One of my favorite and most inspiring and healing books, by pediatrician Rachel Naomi Remen. Part personal stories that provide glimpses of the subtleties of complex trauma / attachment trauma and healing in her experiences of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which was diagnosed in childhood. Integrated with stories from her work as a counselor with cancer patients and physicians with burnout.
Sonata: A Memoir of Pain and the Piano, by Andrea Avery. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 12 yo in 1989, describes how the whole family was having “transmission problems” at that time (brother with pot, parents in conflict). Wonders about the role of potential life experiences such as being born cesarean and not being breastfed.
Lab Girl: a memoir by research scientist Hope Jahren, Ph.D. who developed bipolar disorder, offering another glimpse of what attachment disruptions in childhood can look like
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, by Elyn R. Saks. A lawyer at the University of Southern California shares her story about schizophrenia. Gives one a sense of what it was like for her growing up.
Wish You Happy Forever: What China’s Orphans Taught Me About Moving Mountains, an adoptive mother’s story of how she used the science to change how orphans were raised in China and how extensively children can respond remarkably well to a loving, nurturing environment
Adverse Multigenerational Experiences (AMEs)
These particular therapies for chronic illness address the effects of trauma or hardship that occurred in your ancestor’s lives, which can be transmitted epigenetically to affect your health even if you never experienced trauma yourself (11)Yehuda, R., et al. (1998). “Relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder characteristics of Holocaust survivors and their adult offspring.” Am J Psychiatry 155(6): 841-843. Full Text.. This blog post introduces some of my multigenerational history of trauma.
Find a Therapist for AMEs
Family Constellations is an approach to working with multigenerational trauma developed by German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger, who was forced to serve in the German army during World War II, was captured and made a POW in Belgium, and escaped. His approach often uses a small group format and can also be done individually. I have found this work to be very body based and therefore amazing at accessing information that is outside of your awareness.
Hellinger’s website offers links to find practitioners. His work is also referred to as Hellinger work, Family Constellations or Systemic Constellations.
See Stephan Hausner’s book & documentaries (free 9 minute trailer) and an interview about Family Constellations and what it looks like. This book includes case studies & examples of healing different chronic illnesses and other health conditions.
See also Mark Wolynn, drawing from this approach.
Books on AMEs
Even If IT Costs Me My Life: Systemic Constellations and Serious Illness, by Stephan Hausner (2011). This comprehensive, powerful, easy-to-understand book is the one I recommend most highly. It can help give you insights about origins of your illness, how it’s not your fault, and how disease can represent something for an entire family system rather than being an individual issue. This book includes stories and case studies to demonstrate just how strong the effects of trauma in our parents and grandparents’ lives can be in influencing risk for chronic illness. It also demonstrates how much healing can happen and how this can also sometimes happen very quickly.
It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle, by Mark Wolyn is a powerful book that includes some of the science, shares stories, and provides guidance and very specific steps for working with the effects of multigenerational trauma. His work draws from Hellinger’s approach (see below).
The Ancestor Syndrome, by offers remarkable information and stories that helped me identify some of my own multigenerational trauma that I hadn’t recognized. As with other trauma work, it is helpful to go slowly and to read it in small doses. You can also read a description of the author’s work in transgenerational psychotherapy (12)Schutzenberger, A. A. (1998). The Ancestor Syndrome: Transgenerational Psychotherapy and the Hidden Links in the Family Tree, Routledge.
My Beloved World, a memoir by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor which includes her diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in childhood and provides a poignant example of ACEs and multigenerational trauma
Adverse Babyhood Experiences (ABEs)
These approaches work with trauma from the few years before conception, throughout prenatal life, birth, infancy, and very early childhood. Learn more in two blog posts: an introduction to early risk factors in type 1 diabetes followed by more detail and an example of how these therapies work for kids with asthma who have the same risk factors. This will give you insights into how similar approaches can work for adults. Both posts are relevant regardless of the kind of chronic illness you have, since the research is similar for chronic disease and mental health conditions.
Find a Therapist for ABEs
The Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH) holds regular conferences, offers trainings and news updates, and has lots of information on its website including a list of practitioners (their list is being rebuilt and is currently small as of May 2021). You’ll find another list of practitioners on Kate White’s website (it’s also a small list that she plans to grow) and for those who have trained with Myrna Martin.
Many therapists will have a specific focus in this field, such as working primarily with children and families, or working mostly with babies or adults around their prenatal experiences. Many also work with subtle patterns people develop from early relationships with parents and other adult caregivers.
For parents wanting support and information on more attuning and protective practices, see Attachment Parenting International.
Small group birth process work: Myrna Martin supports adults in the process of healing from perinatal events in a small group formats. She brings her experiences as a nurse, child and family therapist, mother of premature babies, and craniosacral therapist to this work. Her birth process workshops include 6 to 8 individuals and take place in supportive, safe settings over 3 or 4 days. I’ve done 7 or more of these workshops as well as a 2.5-year training with Myrna and it has been among the most life transforming for me – both in terms of symptoms of fatigue and back pain, as well as in my relationship life, among other areas. She has a directory of graduates. See also oppportunities for small group birth process workshops with colleague Cherionna Menzam-Sills, who also does other kinds of related work.
Books on ABEs
You can learn more about ABEs in my new blog post and in this free downloadable ebook below. The post includes free downloadable fact sheets and checklists.
The Mother and Child Reunion by Antonio Madrid, Ph.D. (here’s a blog post about it) and Tony’s website with information for healing asthma in children by healing effects of prenatal stress, difficult births and other unrecognized ABEs that affect mothers to repair their nature ability to bond.
Parent Infant Bonding by Marshall Klaus and John Jnell (or the earlier version Maternal Infant Bonding by Marshall Klaus and John Kennell, both pediatricians). I’ve only read Maternal Infant Bonding and found it to be brilliant. The research since then supports what they found.
Spirit Into Form: Exploring Embryological Potential and Prenatal Psychology by Cherionna Menzam-Sills, who has extensive training in ABEs, craniosacral therapy and more. Introduces how life experiences influence our developing selves from conception until after birth. Contains gentle exercises for exploration and healing.
How to Choose a Therapist
Just as it can take time to find a doctor who specializes in your chronic illness, who treats you with respect and who is also knowledgeable and nonjudgmental, it can take time to find a therapist who is a good fit for you.
Give yourself that time.
Interview or simply talk with a few therapists before deciding (many offer a free initial consultation by phone or in person).
Some ideas of what to aim for when looking for a therapist include the following:
- has many years of experience in working with trauma
- has completed the full training in their specialty
- has done and / or is still doing personal work with their own issues, trauma, perceptions of threat
- has good boundaries
- feels like someone you can trust and feel safe with (this can take time to figure out but should seem possible at first blush)
- is responsive if you need to talk about your experiences of therapy, such as if you have symptoms or side effects after sessions etc
- is flexible, nonjudgmental and committed to helping you hear your own voice (rather than having all the answers themselves about what you should or shouldn’t do)
- is attuning to you and your needs as well as to your pace, rather than theirs etc
Online Courses & Videos for Working on Your Own
Learning about the role of adverse life events can help make sense of symptoms and give you new tools for working with your health. These are three options and possible steps to take if this information is new to you. If you are familiar with all of it, skip to Step 3.
Step 1: You can learn about the role of adversity, trauma and other environmental stressors in shaping nervous system perceptions of threat through a number of excellent books.
Step 2: If you’d like to go deeper, these 2 women have an understanding of trauma and the nervous system and offer free videos as well as online courses.
I have not taken either course and do not know these authors personally, but have seen how their general topics and approaches include discussions of the nervous system, polyvagal theory and the role of fight, flight, freeze and the social nervous system; provide an introduction to the physiology of stress and trauma, explain how it’s not psychological or all in your head, and much more.
Other Approaches & Resources
There are many ways of beginning to heal the effects of trauma. Most of them work with the nervous system in some way rather than purely through talking or cognition or will power. Here are tools that I and many others have found helpful, and that for some people are enough to greatly improve, or decrease worsening, or even recover from many different types of chronic illness.
Some people, such as holistic therapist Aoife Brown, have had great success in reducing symptoms using energy healing such as sound, emotional freedom technique (EFT), the Emotion Code and others. As has Ali Kempson, who recovered from chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) using energy medicine. Dan Neuffer also recovered from ME/CFS by working with the nervous system and has both an online program and a book on his journey. His approach does not include insights or approaches for working with polyvagal theory or trauma.
Many people incorporate movement practices such as yoga, tai chi, chi kung and other practices that inherently support nervous system states that help create greater calm and groundedness. I’ve greatly appreciated other tools as well, including art therapy, for example, with someone who is “trauma-informed” and familiar with how trauma can show up in subtle ways as well as who is familiar with working with the nervous system from their modality.
The important thing to note is that symptoms are not always as solid or fixed as we think. And there are many ways of supporting change and bringing more options and ease into our lives. Follow your intuition and look for resources and therapies that feel like a good fit for you.
What’s your experience been?
Have you had any successes with approaches to healing overt or subtle perceptions of threat?
Has any particular approach been helpful for you? Are there any not mentioned above that you’ve found especially helpful (if so, please include them in the comments for others to know about as there are many ways of healing the effects of trauma).
Have you discovered ways to decrease your symptoms or sensitivities to stress and triggers or other chronic illness-related experiences?
I’d love to hear about it.
You can learn more about the different types of trauma in this summary of the science post. Or about adverse childhood experiences, attachment / developmental trauma, perinatal risk factors and multigenerational trauma. I also describe the different types of trauma that helped make sense of my chronic illness (ME/CFS) in my personal story.
Here are 11 tools I recommend that also support healing the effects of trauma at any age.
|↑1, ↑4||Yehuda, R., et al. (2013). “Epigenetic Biomarkers as Predictors and Correlates of Symptom Improvement Following Psychotherapy in Combat Veterans with PTSD.” Front Psychiatry 4: 118|
|↑2||Naviaux, R. K. (2014). “Metabolic features of the cell danger response.” Mitochondrion 16: 7-17|
|↑3||Naviaux, R. K., et al. (2016). “Metabolic features of chronic fatigue syndrome.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|↑5||Madrid, A. (2005). “Helping children with asthma by repairing maternal-infant bonding problems.” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 48(3-4): 199-211|
|↑6||Nakazawa, D. J. (2015). Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal. New York City, Atria Books|
|↑7||Wolynn, M. (2016). It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle, Penguin|
|↑8||Doidge, N. (2015). The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity Viking Adult|
|↑9||Caldwell, C., Ed. (1997). Getting in Touch: The Guide to New Body-Centered Therapies, Quest|
|↑10||Caldwell, C. (1996). Getting Our Bodies Back: Recovery, healing, and transformation through body-centered psychotherapy, Shambhala|
|↑11||Yehuda, R., et al. (1998). “Relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder characteristics of Holocaust survivors and their adult offspring.” Am J Psychiatry 155(6): 841-843. Full Text.|
|↑12||Schutzenberger, A. A. (1998). The Ancestor Syndrome: Transgenerational Psychotherapy and the Hidden Links in the Family Tree, Routledge|