An Excerpt from a QuickStart Guide

The QuickStart Guide: Get the Applications in One Easy-to-Use Guide

by Ruth Buczynski, PhD
with Bessel van der Kolk, MD

1. Quieting the limbic system

Trauma empowers the limbic system to take control of the brain, resulting in an animalistic, survival-based response. Dr. van der Kolk touches on how we can start to quiet that part of the brain so that the more rational brain systems can come back online.

The impact of trauma is in your animal brain – in your survival brain – and your survival brain doesn’t have words or concepts or ideas.

Your limbic system is like a little animal that responds to thunder by blowing up or biting.

Actually, you can be highly traumatized, and be very smart, extremely insightful, and have it all down.

You might have had ten years of psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral treatment, but when your animal brain gets triggered by a particular sound, smell, or visualization, that animal part of your brain takes over.

Your frontal lobes will be running like crazy to keep it under control – you’ll be trying to manage that “raging dog” inside of you.

But in order to really overcome trauma, you need to take care of that “frightened dog” inside – and that is really the challenge.

Insight does not quiet down the limbic system.

So, the big question is this: How do you quiet down the frightened animal inside of you?

The answer to that is probably in the same way that you quiet down babies. You quiet them by holding and touching them, by being very much in tune with them, by feeding and rocking them, and by very gradual exposure to trying new things. (p. 15 in your transcript)

2. How trauma can hijack three fundamental areas of the brain

There are three basic systems functioning together in the brain, and trauma can have a profound impact on all three. Dr. van der Kolk describes the three systems and how they can be thrown off by trauma. He also talks about ways that we can help people re-integrate these systems after they’ve been disrupted by trauma.

What I call the smoke detector is that primitive brain area that makes you be afraid – the amygdala.

Certainly, in almost every study of trauma, that smoke detector – the amygdala –becomes hyperactive when people are exposed to images/memories of what happened before.

One of the big questions in trauma treatment is how do you rewire that amygdala? How do you rewire that smoke-detector system?

Nobody has nailed that yet. What we do know is that there is a part of consciousness that allows you to monitor and guide yourself in some way.

To my mind, the real advance in trauma treatment is that we know that you cannot change irrational, organic responses from your body, except by becoming deeply involved in your self – noticing your internal world.

The cook in your brain is the thalamus. At any particular moment, your brain gets input through your ears, eyes, nose, skin and body, and it converges on the thalamus. The thalamus cooks and stirs – the cook is the brain’s conductor that stirs and puts all these sensations together.

When you get in a very high state of arousal, your thalamus breaks down, and what is left are the unintegrated images, sensations, thoughts, smells, and sounds of the trauma that live a separate existence.

Trauma is really about sounds and images that make you flash back – your body makes you flash back, and that is very much because the thalamus is not able to do its job of putting all this together into a piece of autobiography that says, “This – or that – is what happened to me.”

The unintegrated fragments, the “ingredients of the soup” continue to live a separate existence.

In order to overcome your traumatic memories – the flashbacks – you need to calm the thalamus.

How we do that? We do that through neurofeedback. I think that EMDR can probably do that – we are studying that right now – how to get control over that out of control piece of the brain and how to calm down the thalamus.

The watchtower is that medial prefrontal self-experience part of the brain. How reactive you are to your environment to a large degree is determined by the size, the activation, and the neural connections of this part of your brain.

The bad news is that the more trauma you have, the worse that part of your brain functions, so that the more trauma you have, the more reactive you become.

The good news is that the laws of neuroplasticity apply to that part of the brain, and the law of neuroplasticity is that the more you use something, the more you build up that part of the brain.

As a traumatized person, you don’t want to experience your internal world – it feels so frightening.

But if you are helped to experience your internal world and you learn to meditate or do yoga, or you learn to activate that part of your brain safely, then you experience less reactivity.

You become more mindful – you can see things happen and not automatically react to them.

That is a very important part of what we now know about treatment – you have to learn to be still, to notice your self, and to tolerate your sensations. (p. 8-11 in your transcript)

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About the Author:

Ruth Buczynski

Ruth Buczynski, PhD, Licensed Psychologist and President of the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. Since 1989, Ruth has combined her commitment to mind/body medicine with a savvy business model. As president of The National Institute for the Clinical Application for Behavioral Medicine, she’s been a leader in bringing innovative training and professional development programs to thousands of health and mental health care practitioners throughout the world.

Successfully sponsoring distance-learning programs and annual conferences for over 20 years, she’s now expanded into the “cloud.” During the past 6 years, she’s developed intelligent and thoughtfully researched webinars to bring life-changing resources to people around the world.