Supporting patients who've experienced trauma towards healing of mind and body

20 months ago by Dr Ruth Dyson

In my work both at The Natural Practice as a Hypnotherapist/ Integrated Medicine Physician and as an NHS GP with an interest in mental health I have come to understand that trauma can have a huge impact on both mind and body. Patients’ experience of “trauma” can vary widely, from experiencing significant adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as abuse or bereavement, to what may be rationalised by the patient as fairly “minor” trauma such as an episode of bullying or a loved one being ill but then recovering. In the former situation a patient will often recognise that they have experienced trauma and have insight into the effect this may have on their later experience of illness. It can be harder to understand the impact of the more “minor” or cumulative trauma which is a part of many people’s lives.

Both Hypnotherapy and Integrated (Lifestyle) Medicine can be helpful to understand the root cause of symptoms and behaviours that may be related to a history of trauma and support you to improve your health and wellbeing naturally.

We know that people who have experienced multiple ACEs such as abuse, parental divorce, or addiction, are more at risk for many physical and mental illnesses. The high levels of chronic stress that they experience can set the threat system on high alert resulting in activation of the fight, flight or freeze response. A child may be unable to fight or run away from the situation so may freeze as a defence mechanism. As they are unable to act upon this response and therefore release the stress this can result in holding onto the trauma physically. This can later be expressed as physical symptoms such as chronic pain (including fibromyalgia), bowel problems, tics and many others. As adults they are more at risk of developing addictions e.g. to alcohol/substances, food, gambling etc. This is a coping mechanism which then becomes maladaptive and can have a detrimental effect on health and relationships.

The above physiological mechanism can also occur in adults who experience stress or children who experience less severe adversity. Even when the trauma is perceived as relatively “minor” by the patient themselves, or they experience a series of multiple situations/events which cause stress but no “major” trigger, trauma is often important in the development of symptoms. Asking the question “what else was going on for you around the time you developed that symptom?” or “is there anything that you think this symptom is trying to tell you?” can lead to great insights. Once we have identified that trauma may be playing a part then we can start to work at a deeper, root-cause level. The need to work at this level often becomes apparent over time as the therapeutic relationship builds a safe environment for people to explore these issues with support and guidance.

When working with patients through an Integrated (Lifestyle) Medicine approach we look at health and wellbeing holistically within a framework of six pillars (nutrition, physical activity, healthy relationships, sleep, reducing stress and avoiding excess alcohol and other substances). This can lead to improvements both in physical and mental health. By understanding the impact of trauma and supporting patients to take a more self-compassionate approach, I find they can begin to improve their symptoms. Through this integrated approach we can also give personalised dietary, physical activity, and supplement recommendations to support healing. I am aware that recommendations can sometimes be difficult to implement so this advice is supported by a health coaching and behaviour change approach to make the changes both manageable and meaningful.

Hypnotherapy is also a wonderful tool which can help heal the body naturally, reduce the impact of troublesome symptoms, support patients to reduce maladaptive coping mechanisms (such as excess alcohol/smoking/binge eating) and identify root-causes such as past trauma. Once we have worked to improve wellbeing, resilience, and self-worth we can start to work at deeper levels through approaches such as working with the inner child or the part that experienced the trauma and, in a very safe and supportive way, help them to heal. Supporting the inner child or traumatised part can allow patients to process and let go of the trauma. Often this leads to an improvement in the physical symptoms that the body had developed as a response to the trauma.

While I have described them separately, many patients benefit from the combined approach using both Integrated Medicine and Hypnotherapy which I am able to offer. You can read about Integrated (Lifestyle) Medicine here

any more about Hypnotherapy here

If you would like to book in or discuss the most suitable approach for you please contact our reception team.

Dr Dyson discusses trauma in most recent practice Postcast "Supporting people who have experienced trauma".