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Integrative Psychiatry

How To Generate Meaning From Trauma

By February 1, 2019August 21st, 2020No Comments

Anyone involved in mental healthcare knows how important it is to understand trauma and the devastating impact it can have on growth, development and overall mental health.

Our science and understanding of the predispositions to psychological trauma, particularly resulting in chronic PTSD, is getting more mature.

In 2014, a study demonstrated that increased C-Reactive Protein (an inflammatory marker) prior to deployment of 2,600 war-zone Marines led to a much higher risk of developing PTSD.1 This study suggests that inflammation may be a significant predisposing factor to PTSD.

Even more interesting is that it’s a two-way street. People who’ve had PTSD tend to show elevated inflammatory markers and develop inflammatory related conditions in their body after the fact.2

But what most researchers, and consequently providers don’t typically recognize is how overly focusing on the scientific mechanism of trauma can lead to a cut and dry model that paints a narrow picture of the incident with little to no way of seeing any meaning in these more difficult experiences of life.

And if patients are left seeing no meaning in a traumatic injury then some part of them will always resent it no matter how much they’ve “healed” it.

Resentments from trauma are powerful. The more resentments that are stacked up, the more difficult it is to feel empowered, because you will experience a loss of power to the person(s) or thing(s) that you resent.

In this way, traumas from a patient’s past will feel like a burden and limitation.

Very few people think of trauma as one of their greatest opportunities for personal growth and transformation.

Typically, traumas are thought as something horrible and we pray for it not to happen, right?

Well, obviously nobody is wishing for a traumatic incident but maintaining that traumas were only bad is a huge trap.

Think of a trauma you had in your life…it doesn’t matter how big or small it was.

Were you bullied a lot as a child?

Did you get in a car accident that left you in a chronic state of shock?

Do you have a boss that’s demanding and is constantly mean to you?

Were you ever assaulted?

Did your parents emotionally abuse you?

How about physically abuse you?

Our list of small and big traumas in our lives are usually quite extensive.

When you think about and feel the traumas from your past what do you notice?

Does it trigger a traumatic response in your nervous system where you go into a fight, flight, freeze or collapse response?

If you do there is probably still more to heal in your body around the event.

Do feel any charged emotions such as sadness, anger, resentment, aversion, disgust or have thoughts of revenge, spitefulness, overly forgiving, or anything in between?

This type of emotional baggage is actually disempowering.

Many people will consciously or unconsciously blame their traumas as reasons why they are not wildly successful in their careers, relationships, family, friendships, etc.

The issue is not the trauma itself. If that were the case anyone who has ever experienced significant traumas would never be able to move on with their life.

Do you think in the 27 years Nelson Mandela was in prison he didn’t experience any traumas? My guess is there were so many he lost count.

But even though he lived a life filled with traumas he became one of the most inspiring, influential leaders in the history of humanity.

He shares this perspective quite succinctly when he said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.”

So how do you help a person see that the trauma they experienced is actually a part of their history that can propel them to be more fully themselves?

Traumas can disempower your patients, leaving them feeling fragmented and less of what they’re capable of becoming in the world. When they view trauma as an enemy, they will see it as an enemy that ultimately can’t be defeated, because it’s in their history and slightly out of reach.

However, when they view their trauma as a huge challenge from the past that can motivate them to become more powerful and fully themselves, they’ve won. They’ve reclaimed any loss of power from the person or thing that traumatized them.

Of course, the path to getting there may be complex. It may include trauma therapists, medication, and other types of support. But without developing a growth oriented view to trauma, your patients will always feel and behave like a victim of circumstance in their life.

People deserve the life that they truly desire. There’s no reason to blame a trauma for why they don’t have it.

By exploring the meaning that came out of the healing process, you can help patients see that trauma is actually fuel to reclaim their power so they can create a better reality going forward. There’s no reason to keep that power any longer in the hands of perpetrator.

1. Eraly SA, Nievergelt CM, Maihofer AX, Barkauskas DA, Biswas N, Agorastos A, O’Connor DT, Baker DG. Assessment of plasma C-reactive protein as a biomarker of posttraumatic stress disorder risk. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71:423–431. 2. von Kanel R, Hepp U, Kraemer B, Traber R, Keel M, Mica L, Schnyder U. Evidence for low-grade systemic proinflammatory activity in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of psychiatric research. 2007;41:744–752.

Will Van Derveer, MD is co-founder of Integrative Psychiatry Institute (IPI), along with friend and colleague Keith Kurlander, MA. He co-created IPI as an expression of what he stands for. First, that anyone can heal, and second that we medical providers must embrace our own healing journeys in order to fully command our potency as healers.

Dr. Van Derveer spent the last 20 years innovating and testing a comprehensive approach to addressing psychiatric challenges which transcends the conventional model he learned in medical school at Vanderbilt University and residency at University of Colorado, while deeply engaging his own healing path.

He founded the Integrative Psychiatric Healing Center in in 2001 in Boulder, CO, where he currently practices. Dr. Van Derveer regards unresolved emotional trauma as the most significant root cause of psychiatric symptoms in integrative psychiatry practice, along with gut issues, hormone imbalances, inflammation, mitochondrial dysfunction, and other functional medicine challenges. He is trained in Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, Internal Family Systems, and other psychotherapy techniques. His current clinical passion is psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, which he mentors interested doctors in providing. An avid meditator, he has been a meditation instructor since 2004.

For the past several years Dr. Van Derveer has taught psychiatrists and other psychiatric providers integrative psychiatry in a number of settings, including course directing the CU psychiatry residents’ course as well as with Scott Shannon and Janet Settle at the Psychiatry MasterClass. In addition to his clinical work and teaching, he was co-investigator in 2016 a Phase II randomized clinical trial, sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). He continues to support this protocol, now in a Phase III clinical trial under break-through designation by FDA.

Dr. Van Derveer is a diplomate of the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine (ABoIHM) since 2013, and he was board certified in the first wave of diplomates of the new American Board of Integrative Medicine (ABIM) in 2016.