Effectively Treating Trauma in Patients
The traditional inpatient model of treatment has often steered away from trauma work, due to limited length of stays and fears of flooding patients by opening up their trauma histories in a transitional care setting. However, the majority of our patients report significant trauma histories and often link the effects of trauma to their reason for admission. This presents a discrepancy for many inpatient facilities, where practitioners are working with traumatized patients within a treatment frame that discourages trauma-work.
The emergence of mind-body research in the treatment of trauma presents a unique opportunity for managing the tension between trauma-informed care and treatment that touches on the root causes of mental illness. By utilizing this research, Highlands Behavioral Health System, located in Littleton, Colorado, is attempting to address a gap in the care model and to present higher-quality, more pointed strategies in the care of patients.
The Research Behind Mind-Body Programming
Traditional inpatient models primarily utilize “top-down” therapy approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), or talk-therapy modalities, which have proven to be only moderately effective in managing symptoms of PTSD and chronic stress. In these approaches, the patient is asked to think about their experience and rationalize traumatic events – a function controlled by the prefrontal cortex of the brain, responsible for reasoning, executive functioning, and logic.
The approach assumes that the prefrontal cortex can help override the traumatic responses by helping patients rationalize their experiences. Often this leads to re-traumatization as patients recount difficult memories and sensations, and struggle to develop a cohesive narrative around what happened to them. The flaw of “top-down” approaches is that they fail to fully address the biomechanics of trauma. Specifically, they do not target the body systems most affected by trauma.
Research has shown that trauma responses are primarily controlled by the autonomic nervous system and that chronically dysregulated patients have difficulty controlling their fight or flight responses due to autonomic nervous-system deficits. “Bottom-up” therapy modalities have emerged in response to this research and target the nervous system through a variety of body-based strategies.
“Bottom-Up” Approaches at Highlands Behavioral Health System
Highlands Behavioral Health System is passionate about incorporating the latest research into the treatment of patients, which is why we are expanding our mind-body programming to include many “bottom-up” approaches. This allows us to aid in the treatment of traumatized patients by introducing nervous-system healing, without asking patients to share intimate details of their trauma stories and thereby running the risk of re-traumatization.
By utilizing mind-body programming, we aim to provide high quality, evidence-based approaches to treatment and to find creative ways to help our patients heal.