Trauma can be a one-off event, such as a fall or an accident, a natural disaster (e.g an earthquake or flood), a battlefield incident, a physical attack, etc. Shock trauma is loosely defined as a single-episode traumatic event. Developmental trauma refers to various kinds of psychological damage that may occur during child development when a child has insufficient attention from the primary caregivers, or an insufficiently nurturing relationship with the parent. If people have to live in a whole environment or climate of stress—for example, a child that’s born into a family where there’s a lot of conflict, physical violence or tremendous tension, the child picks that up, and this is an ongoing stress. People who have lost their jobs and have families to take care of are under prolonged stress. So while a single stress, such as even losing a job, may not cause a lot of stress, if this goes on for a long period of time in combination with other stressors such as family tensions and money worries, it can really erode a persons sense of self and resilience. (Peter Levine)
Experiences which are overwhelming, i.e too much for us to deal with at the time they are happening, may therefore become stuck in the body (somatised) – various areas become held, frozen or shut down, they may feel more dense when I listen with my hands, or more vague, even absent. It takes a lot of energy to do this shutting down or splitting off, which can result in problems such as depression or chronic fatigue. There is also less energy available to maintain health and to combat disease/infections so a person may become more vulnerable in this way.
It is not just these extraordinary overwhelming and threatening events, however, which can result in trauma; many relatively ordinary events can result in debilitating symptoms. Many people develop symptoms after a car accident, even a relatively minor one, or after dental surgery or other invasive medical procedures. Babies and children are especially susceptible to overwhelm and the so-called ‘stress response’ is a vital and effective protective mechanism in the face of perceived threat or danger. Problems arise only when these responses fail to complete (as can be observed in the animal kingdom) but instead become stuck in the body and interfere with the normal regulation and functioning of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Trauma hijacks our memory and our physiology so it feels as though it’s happening now and we become stuck in the stress response, rather than being able to flow easily between the different states of arousal as appropriate. Autonomic dysregulation may also have a negative impact on pain; It has been suggested that some types of pain (ischaemic/ muscle nociception) could be caused by long-term stress and its effects on the ANS (Katherine Ukleja, 2014)
Craniosacral therapy can directly address the impacts of stress and trauma in the body, firstly by providing a sense of safety and well-being and then by working with the areas of the body which have been affected e.g heart, adrenals, particular areas of the brain, to help them come back into their natural balance and function. With trained touch, I can feel the embodied experience or somatisation of a stressful or traumatic event and can help the system to release the tension held there and to come back into a healthy relationship with that part of the body. Craniosacral skills also allow me to work directly with the central and autonomic nervous systems to correct maladaptive states found in conditions of chronic stress or accumulative trauma.