Sensory Memories & Ghosts of Posttraumatic Stress
Rory Fleming Richardson, Ph.D., ABMP, TEP
Pretend for a moment that you are in tribal days and you are haunted by ghosts and memories of something horrific. The tribal medicine man or shaman who finds out about the problem you are having, perform rituals, and exorcises the ghosts. One technique used by magi and shamans is to have the afflicted party detail the experiences that caused these ghosts, have the individuals create an image or symbol of these event/s, become ready to let go of them, and ritually burn or bury the symbol.
For a patient with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, there are sensory memories that act as anchors and triggers. These result in nightmares, intrusive memories and flashbacks. The odor of diesel reminding the soldier of the heavy equipment during war, the sound of a backfiring car triggering memories of gun fire, or the image of a child just before a bomb explodes are a few of these sensory triggers. Not all sensory memories of trauma are horrific. Some can be extremely neutral except for the fact that they were present at the time of the trauma. For example, a vacuum cleaner in the back of a car where a woman died. The process used by ancient healers is very much the same as the ones used today. The turning point is to identify these sensory memories, express the emotions around them, do whatever one feels needs to occur to become ready to let go of the memory, and then perform the ritual of letting go. Becoming ready to let go and walking through the steps of making peace with them is the preparation to heal. What is required to become ready is individualized and can only be defined by that which is written on the individual’s heart. This does not simply mean desensitizing to the trauma. Various methods of desensitizing sensory memories so that the individual can go through daily life without profound intrusion have been developed. These include flooding, exposure-response modification, eye-movement desensitization (EMDR), and others, but these simply allow the individual to coexist with the ghosts. It is like learning to live in hell with the trauma without it bothering you. If treatment stops there, the process of empowerment of the individual may not take place. It is through the rituals, confronting, making amends or other actions, and traveling the path started by the trauma that we grow and make the experience a useful part of us. Once we have experienced a trauma or any event in life, it is a part of us. To try to make it not exist, is like taking part of our childhood or school years disappear. If we did, we would be the lesser for it.
For those of you trained in psychodrama, you can see how our creativity and imagination can be used to recreate events, provide things we did not have at that point of our life, and create the “rituals” needed to make peace with our experiences. Sensory memories are recreated and explored. The patient can interact with these memories and experiences, providing corporeal form to that which is without form. Emotions are expressed through various forms of catharsis.
It is not unusual for various sensory memories to come back repeatedly throughout our lives. The reason for this is that as we go through each phase of life (i.e., adolescence, young adulthood, becoming parents, becoming grandparents) the events from the trauma may touch us in different ways. It is not a sign that treatment did not work, but it is the opportunity to deal with a different aspect of our memories.
To be a survivor of trauma is not the end of the path. It is simply one point. When we get to being empowered by the event, this is another point. We need to stay on the path and see how far we can go. For some, it may lead to a point you did not believe existed.
Author’s Note: The reasons that I omitted references is that this article is based in total on my forty-four years of experience working with individuals with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. I simply hope it provides some food for thought for those in the field.
by Rory Fleming Richardson, Ph.D., ABMP, TEP
Inspired by Gazelle Nicole Richardson (my loving wife)
Once you are able to find your way passed the ghosts and the nightmares,
to that point of strength and power to stand up to the source of the nightmares,
taking back your power and defending that which you could not.
At that point, it is you who have the choice to be kind or be cruel.
If you choose to hold on to the anger and the pain, you tie yourself to the karmic loop.
If you forgive and let go, you free yourself to move on taking with you the strength that you gained from the ordeal.
Periodically, you may revisit the ghosts as life phases change and mature,
but it is with the strengths that you have gained to that point.
At some point, we realize that the terms victim and survivor are simply points in a timeline of healing. If you elect to live at one point in the timeline, it is your choice. But if you decide to evolve past it to a new point of self, you may find you are more than you ever thought was possible.
Licensed Psychologist, Missouri;
Licensed Psychologist, Oregon;
Registered Psychologist (Clinical, Counseling & Health) by HCPC, United Kingdom; Board Certified Medical Psychologist, ABMP; Board Certified Psychodramatist/Trainer
I am available for teleconsultations for international cases. I will also be providing psychological services directly as a psychologist at the Greater Ozark Rural Psychologists clinic in Mansfield, Missouri.
What We Don’t Think About: Vitamin/Mineral Deficiencies, Nature Interaction & Health
Rory Fleming Richardson, Ph.D., ABMP, TEP
When we are young, we are invincible.
When we are middle aged, we say “Things are not that bad yet.”
When we get to be 60+, we start to take things seriously.
When we get to be 65, we say “Oh crap!” and worry about our children.
When it comes to health practices, the lines written above appear to be the norm for most individuals. Some of us remember grandparents and parents trying to get us to take this vitamin or supplement, do this or that healthy thing, or saying “go outside, play in the yard and enjoy the fresh air.” Once we were old enough to ignore them, we did think that we were invincible. The world I grew up in of the 1950s and 1960s is not the world we have today. The level of pollution, depleted nutrients in the foods, rampant vitamin/mineral deficiencies, and electronic smog is higher than it has ever been. The prose above is what I have found is true for me. Over the last 65 years, the amount of nutrients in our foods have been reduced. A 2004 study of food nutritional value between 1950 to 1999 showed a statistically significant decline in the medians range, from 6% for protein to 38% for riboflavin.1 This study has been further confirmed by other studies in Europe.2 This is further complicated by the herbicides and pesticides that have, at this point, touched every person in the civilized world, interfering in the metabolizing, absorbing, and retention, of the vitamins and minerals.3
What about the “go outside, play in the yard, and breath fresh air” command of our parents? Although some of this was not just for our health, but for our parents sanity, fresh air and being in nature have been proven to be beneficial to health.4 Even people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have been found to benefit from being in contact with nature.5 Health benefits are seen throughout the literature to see for both physical and emotional health.6 But is there more to it than just being in a natural setting? In the 1960s, there was the revolution of making shoes out of synthetic, insulating materials. Prior to that, leather (or skin) was used to make shoes. The leather was a conductive material. Prior to shoes, we were barefoot. Like it or not, we are bioelectrical/biochemical entities. It is not hard to understand that if we have electrical processes within us, we may be impacted by connection with a grounding source, specifically, the earth. The discovery of connection the with the earth stems back into ancient times, but we rediscovered it thanks to Clint Ober, a retired pioneer in cable television, in 1998. Since then, the benefits to reduce inflammation, promote healing, and calm emotions, has been documented in multiple peer-reviewed journals, and various case studies.7 8 One of the things I like about the earthing, or grounding approach is that it does not cost anything. You simply have to have bare skin in contact with the earth. Given the number of diseases that impact people’s lives through inflammation, the free treatment option of spending time barefoot outside or working in the garden using your hands in the soil to plant and care for plants would appear to be the best option to give healing a chance.
How about the play and activity? Our body has three fluid systems: cerebral spinal fluid, which is a slow leak in and leak out circulation; the vascular system, which includes the heart to pump blood; and the lymphatic system. The latter has no pump, except for the movement of the human body. Activity is the way that the fluid circulates. Besides this, there is a multitude of benefits from “going and playing outside.”
I also remember my mother giving me iodine tablets to take. I always thought that it was because of the era we lived in (fear of a nuclear attack), or because I was born in post-war Japan. Since then, I have research some of the information from the International Association of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, who share the impact of parasites, danger of fluoride on health, and recommend simple things like baking soda instead of toothpaste, iodine for teeth and gums, and using a oral water irrigation. Perhaps we need to rethink what we have been taught, and start to look at how the older traditional ways seemed to work.
I have found that studying medical anthropology has improved my understanding of psychology, and medicine because it looks at what worked over many centuries and for thousands of years. It is only recently that we have re-embraced the value of natural honey for health. I have heard critics talk about these things as “new age,” but in fact, they are practices that we have just forgotten for the “newer and shinier approach.” To those who state, “I have not heard of any research to support this,” my response is either learn how to read or read more before you express an opinion.
A Native American saying is “Take only what you need, and leave the earth as you found it.” We have not done this. We all know that we need to improve our attention to health practices. As a civilization, we honestly, and intensely, need to change how we treat the earth and our environment. We need to learn how to find ways of eliminating toxins from our bodies, and provide better support for nutrients, attending to the absorption through probiotics health, reduced inflammation, and making time to reconnect with nature in a way that is more than just watching the Nature Channel. Don’t wait till you become 60 or older to take these things seriously. If you do, you will miss out on more life, and may not have the health you want, during the senior years.
1 Davis, D. (2004) Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 23, No. 6, 669–682. http://saveoursoils.com/userfiles/downloads/1351255687-Changes%20in%20USDA%20food%20composition%20data%20for%2043%20garden%20crops,%201950-1999.pdf
2 Davis, D. (2009) Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What Is the Evidence? HortScience February 2009 vol. 44 no. 1 15-19. http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/44/1/15.full
3 Samsel, A. & Seneff, S. (2013) Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdiscip Toxicol. 2013 Dec; 6(4): 159–184. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945755/
4 Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., Kaplan, Stephen. (2008). The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature. Psychological Science. 19: 1207-1212. http://libra.msra.cn/Publication/6994981/the-cognitive-benefits-of-interacting-with-nature
5 Kuo, F. E., Taylor, A. F. (2004) A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit /Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study. American Journal of Public Health. 94(9): 1580-1586. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc1448497/.
6 Ulrich, R. S. (1999). Effects of gardens on health outcomes: Theory and research. In C. Cooper-Marcus & M. Barnes (Eds.), Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations. New York: John Wiley, pp. 27-86.
7 Oschman, J., Chevalier, G. & Brown, R. (2015). The effects of grounding (earthing) on inflammation, the immune response, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Journal of Inflammation Research.
8 Ghaly, M. & Teplitz, D. (2004). The Biologic Effects of Grounding the Human Body During Sleep as Measured by Cortisol Levels and Subjective Reporting of Sleep, Pain, and Stress. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Volume 10, Number 5, 2004, pp. 767–776
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Rory Fleming Richardson, Ph.D., ABMP, TEP
Clinical Medical/Health Psychologist & Neuropsychologist