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Working with dissociation; some surprising symptoms and their resolution

In the course of my work some things still manage to surprise me. Today I was working with a lovely client who has endured years of chronic fatigue as a result of traumatic dissociation (but who was unaware exactly what was the issue – she just knew she failed to connect with her life somehow). This lady is a delight to work with (as are all my clients really), but she has a very particular way of releasing the pent up energy that has been spent keeping her emotions locked in.

In one of our first sessions as we went through the process of trauma transformation (using a mixture of EFT, EMDR and havening) we got to the point of discharge of an old belief system and its stored energy and she said she felt like shaking. I have come across this discharge response before, both in clinic and in my research (particularly the work of Peter Levine*) and luckily was not perturbed by this comment. I suggested she get up and indeed ‘shake it all off’ which she proceeded to do. The next few days were remarkable for this lady; previously unable to concentrate on things she succeeded in playing the piano for the first time in years and spent an hour making something in needlework. It was a remarkably quick turnaround. But more was to come…

In another session we were discussing the myriad symptoms of traumatic dissociation including tinnitus, vertigo and ear wax build up and pain. I told her a story of my own problems with my ears, and we got around to discussing how she might move forward. I explained about using Levine’s shower techniques where you direct the spray to parts of your body whilst saying ‘this is my arm, this is my chest, etc.’ Sounds wacky if you don’t understand dissociation, but effectively the brain refuses to acknowledge parts of your body if they were involved in some traumatic event in your past. This can be mild like tinnitus where blood supply to the nerve is restricted, or it can be severe as in depersonalisation. My client at this point had an ‘ah-ha’ moment and told me the story of how, until she had a number of sessions of massage in her thirties, she had never been able to draw anything on the middle of a piece of paper, they always ended up on the left only. This is a classic example of dissociating the right side of your body (represented here by the visual field in the brain). This was her brain’s response to an overwhelming trauma at some point in her childhood where she effectively ‘cut off’ the right side of her sensory perception. The right side of the brain also happens to be the side of creativity and play so I suggested this might be the reason why she had given up all the things she loved to do.

I do massage as part of treatment with some clients, others have a mixture of EMDR, EFT and havening. I chose the appropriate technique for different people. I have noticed that connection with the body is the most important precursor to recovery. But whatever way you do it, the results of release are phenomenal; you gain joyful appreciation, connection to yourself and others, a deep peace that you haven’t felt since you were tiny (hopefully). I have witnessed this time and time again with clients- and because I am a HSP – Highly Sensitive Person (see the work of Elaine Aron) I can feel the change in that person that I am working with. Another lady I worked with recently seemed to visibly ‘drop’ into herself at one point; I swear I felt it happen. I commented – ‘you just seemed to arrive back into your body’ and she opened her eyes and said that is what she felt had happened also. She has been so much better since then.

The one thing that enables me to do this important work of trauma recovery is to witness people making progress – usually bit by bit (too quick and the change is overwhelming and the threat response is activated)- but sometimes as I’ve described above it can be remarkably quick. And, when, as today I have 2 clients who are able to sit with me and describe feeling real joy in their lives for the first time since childhood, more energy, and a sense of purpose I know that my work is done. We are all ‘work in progress’ but with the right tools and person it becomes SO much easier.

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