Meditation can be a great tool used for calming us down, allowing us to think more clearly, boost our immune system, and can also be helpful as a tool for a wide range of psychological problems. However, as survivors of trauma, we need to make sure we approach meditation with caution, as without guidance from professionals, meditation can be more stressful than supportive.
Trauma and Meditation
Trauma occurs when our nervous system becomes overwhelmed by an experience, or experiences, which it is unable to process correctly. If trauma has occurred in childhood, it is entirely possible that we are not aware of the extent it may have impacted us. It is possible that when attempting to meditate, we may reopen old traumatic wounds. Without the proper guidance of a professional, we may become re-traumatised and lose ourselves yet again in painful memories or experiences.
One of the most common meditation techniques is the Body Scan which is where we focus our attention on various parts of the body. It’s a great way to become present and really pay attention to how we feel inside our bodies rather than in our minds. However as trauma survivors who may store trauma within our bodies, it is possible that we may discover unknown, buried trauma.
Although the crux of meditation is about trying to stay with our experience without attempting to change it, this does not mean forcing ourselves to experience inner torture. If a meditation practice becomes overwhelming in any way, it is much better to move away from the experience and return to it again at another time. Overwhelm during meditation is not uncommon for trauma survivors, which is why it is important to have the support of professionals who understand trauma whilst you attempt the practice.
Dr Peter Levine, a psychologist specialising in trauma, borrowed a concept normally used in Chemistry to demonstrate how we should approach traumatic wounds. The concept is known as titration. In his book “In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness”, Dr Levine discusses what would happen if we were to carelessly mix two reactive chemical compounds together all at once. Obviously we would cause an explosion. However, he explains, if we were to mix the same two substances very slowly, just one drop at a time in a safe container, then instead of an explosion we would simply see a small, controlled fizz with each drop. We can apply this concept to all trauma work, including meditation. Firstly it should occur in a “safe container” – with an informed and trusted trauma professional, then secondly it should happen incrementally. For example, in meditation if we are able to bring our attention to a pleasant bodily sensation and then allow ourselves to explore the safer edges of a difficult traumatic experience, before returning back again to the pleasant sensation, we have a better change of working through the traumatic material. However this takes skill and needs a professional guide in order to support us through the process. Without knowing how to properly and professionally titrate, and work through the inevitable challenging feelings the trauma material will evoke, we will most likely end up re-traumatising ourselves.
Ultimately meditation can be a great tool used for both our own wellbeing and also our recovery from trauma. Practiced properly it has the ability to transform lives. However, it is a serious practice and needs to be respected as such. It has the capacity to reopen old wounds that can be devastating to our trauma recovery. At Khiron Clinics we use meditation as part of our recovery programme and find it to be enormously successful. However it is of course practiced in a controlled environment and always with trauma specialists present.
If you have a client, or know of someone who would benefit from guided and trauma informed meditation practice – reach out to Khiron. We believe that we can stop the revolving door of treatment and misdiagnosis by providing effective residential and out-patient therapies for underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to effective, long lasting recovery. For information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).
Levine, P. A. In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2010.