Trauma and chronic pain are both profoundly tied to the embodied nervous system, which is why there is significant overlap with treatments that help with chronic pain and treatments that heal trauma. Changing the way we relate to past experiences and adapt to current challenges, connecting to inner resources, and reducing chronic stress are all ways that psychotherapy brings relief to a nervous system taxed by trauma or chronic pain. Additionally, individuals who live with chronic pain are more likely to have suffered difficult or traumatic experiences early in life.
The Link Between Chronic Pain & Trauma
In 1995 Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began to study the correlation between what they called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)—essentially, early life trauma—and health in adulthood. Since that time, researchers have documented a strong correlation between various types of chronic illness (including cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune disease) and Adverse Childhood Experiences. While healing from early trauma might not completely heal chronic pain or chronic disease, it can significantly reduce a person’s stress response, which optimizes physical health, as well as opens up new possibilities for relating to pain and the body.
Applications of Trauma-Oriented Therapies
A lot of people come to therapy unsure of how trauma-Oriented therapies can help. Modalities like Internal Family Systems Therapy and EMDR are appropriate for:
- Interpersonal violence, including domestic violence and sexual assault
- Pervasive feelings of worthlessness or believing you’re “never good enough”
- Physical or emotional abuse in childhood
- Life-threatening accidents
- Life-threatening illnesses
- Major surgery
- Individuals at risk for vicarious trauma such as medical professionals & first responders
- Sudden death of a loved one
- Current generalized anxiety
- Depression and hopelessness
Not all trauma survivors have chronic health issues and not all people with chronic pain consider themselves trauma survivors. Yet, in both circumstances, we grieve the loss of comfort in our daily lives and often find ourselves feeling alone as the people around us react to our experiences with either silence or blame. Unfortunately, when others try to meet their own needs for order and meaning, they can miss our needs for mourning, connection, and understanding.
I want to help meet those needs—and I want to help you feel better.