Occurs from a single, identifiable event, usually during adulthood. One can remember the event and it can be relived. At that moment the nervous system is triggered and there is an overwhelming feeling that you are in mortal danger. The survival mechanism is set in motion again and again: flee, fight, freeze of collapse. This is PTSD.
It’s the kind of trauma we’ve probably all heard of. We know the stories of veterans, refugees, people who experience robberies, have to experience sexual violence, etc. Violent and life-threatening situations that can turn people into a fearful wreck from one moment to the next. It affects their whole life and that of the people around them. The fear is in the body and flares up at the slightest trigger.
Fortunately, there is a lot of attention for this form of trauma and good treatment methods are available. Such as, for example, EMDR, Internal Family Systems Therapy, Sensorimotor psychotherapy and the studies for treatment with MDMA are advanced. In regular health care, unfortunately, treatment is still mainly done with various forms of therapy that focus on changing thinking and behaviour, such as Psychotherapy, CBT and Schema Therapy. Even reliving therapies are offered while modern research shows that this will make the trauma experiences worse or will even re-traumatise. The body is not involved in these methods. The idea is still that the cognitive brain determines and controls everything.
Thanks to intensive research in neurobiology with brain scans, we now know a lot about how trauma and the stress reactions affect the brain, and therefore also which treatments are effective and which are less effective. Because these scans clearly show that the prefrontal cortex (the part where memory, speech and analytical capacity is located) in particular is offline during stress, these cognitive behavioral therapies usually do not work sufficiently.
Within the Trauma Informed movement that originated in the US, led by the native Dutch Bessel van der Kolk, a lot of attention is paid to precisely this somatic (physical) approach to healing trauma. The starting point here is observing negative feelings in a safe way without overwhelming. When EMDR is done right it has this same goal; being able to process events in a safe state of being, without being overwhelmed.