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Mindfulness Psychotherapy for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Updated on April 19, 2015
Peter Strong, PhD Buddhist Psychotherapist and specialist in mindfulness-based psychotherapy.
Peter Strong, PhD Buddhist Psychotherapist and specialist in mindfulness-based psychotherapy.

Online Mindfulness Therapy for PTSD

Mindfulness Therapy Online for PTSD

Online Therapy for PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) describes intense recurrent emotional reactions of fear and anxiety that re-occur months or even years after the trauma. Essentially, the traumatic event produced sensory and emotional overload. Both the visual memory and associate emotions experienced were of such an intense and unfamiliar nature that the mind was unable to process them and they become repressed and submerged in the subconscious mind as an emotional complex. Not surprisingly, war, witnessing an accident and other violent events are outside of the normal field of experience for most people and can produce PTDS. However, PTSD is not restricted to war and destruction. The emotional violence of sexual abuse during childhood or rape are common causes of PTSD. The defining factors are the same: The event was outside of the person's normal field of experience and he or she was completely unable to process and assimilate the experience. The emotional energy becomes repressed and flares up long after the trauma as nightmares and periods of extreme anxiety or even panic.

Such recurrent traumatic emotions have an inner structure. In fact all emotions have an internal structure in the form of experiential imagery. The imagery gives structure to the emotions and is essential for maintaining the intensity of the emotion over time and without this organizing structure, the emotion would rapidly dissipate as is the case for most non-traumatic anxiety. This imagery is experiential, rather than a product of visualization, because it arises from the present experience of the emotion. The imagery is clearly felt to resonate with the emotion; it fits with what is being experienced. In Mindfulness Psychotherapy, we can actually work with the structure of this experiential imagery to help resolve the emotional energy that has become trapped. In short, if the imagery changes, then so to will the emotion.

The first phase of Mindfulness Psychotherapy consists of learning to establish a mindfulness-based relationship with the imagery. Mindfulness provides a very useful skill for doing this, because mindfulness teaches us how to recognize when the mind is becoming reactive. We learn to avoid becoming consumed by our habitual patterns of reactivity to the emotions and associated imagery just by paying very careful attention and catching the impulse to react before it takes hold. The other way that mindfulness helps establish this relationship is by helping us to see some of the specific details of the traumatic imagery. This may seem counter-intuitive, because the imagery is so intense, but actually the problem is always in what is not seen, rather than the actual. When we react, we react to the whole unseen complex and not to the specific parts. In addition, most people will find it easier to work with small parts of the emotion. Seeing specific details of the structure of the emotion actually reinforces our relationship with the emotional complex. When a person can establish and develop the ability to relate to their fear, rather than react to it, they have made a tremendously important first step towards healing.

With the relationship established, the client then proceeds to investigate the experiential imagery with mindfulness. This second quality of mindfulness is the open and receptive awareness that allows us to see the deeper structure of experience. Mindfulness is always a movement from the superficial surface appearance to the deeper experience of things. As we investigate in this way, we naturally discover more of the detailed structure of the experiential imagery. We begin to notice particular colors and shapes and other sub-modalities that encode the feeling energy that makes up the trauma. The imagery may be mostly memory-based imagery, but on closer examination there may be more abstract or surrealistic dimensions which add meaning. As we uncover all these details of the imagery - colors, shapes, movement, position, texture - we are entering a rich ground for therapy. We can experiment by making small changes in the imagery and observing how it affects the emotion. Even better than this, is to maintain our mindfulness and allow the imagery to change by itself. Imagery is the natural language of the psyche; the mind thinks in pictures, not words. When we allow the imagery to change without interference and over-interpretation, then we are essentially allowing the psyche to heal itself and this will always be more effective than imposing our ideas.

Throughout the whole process of Mindfulness Psychotherapy with Experiential Imagery, the client is repeatedly exposed to the source of his fear, but in a way that doesn't involve being overwhelmed. This exposure desensitization effect is regarded by most schools of psychotherapy as an essential part of overcoming PTSD and mindfulness provides a very subtle and specific way of doing this.

Peter Strong, PhD is a scientist and Buddhist psychotherapist who specializes in the study of mindfulness and its application in Mindfulness Meditation Therapy. He teaches mindfulness meditation (vipassana) and works with individuals and couples using Mindfulness Meditation Therapy for resolving difficult emotional problems, including anxiety, depression, phobias, grief and trauma and the management of anger and stress. Besides face-to-face work, Peter also works with individuals and couples online via email and web conferencing. Visit http://www.counselingtherapyonline.com to learn more about online mindfulness therapy.

Also, visit my YouTube Channel to learn more about online therapy for PTSD and other emotional problems: http://www.youtube.com/user/pdmstrong

Email inquiries welcome.


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