Why Talk Therapy Doesn’t Heal Trauma

Why Talk Therapy Doesn't Heal Trauma

I know the title of this article may sound a bit odd coming from a psychotherapist, but let me explain. This is one of the least known aspects for most therapists and clients when it comes to working with trauma. Now I am not saying we don’t talk and discuss things as part of therapy, but it is not sufficient to resolve trauma.

I regularly work with clients who have been through years, and sometimes decades, of therapy who have made progress and accumulated a great deal of knowledge, but they still struggle with symptoms related to their trauma, such as anxiety, depression, and relationships issues.

What they have not yet experienced is how to release trauma from their body, which is held in what is referred to as our implicit memory system. This part of the brain has no sense of time and cannot differentiate between people, time, and place. Furthermore, it cannot be accessed and resolved by talking about what occurred.

People will frequently discuss events that were traumatic and have little to no emotion as they talk about them. Some recognize their lack of emotion is out of place. Others believe these events had only minimal impact due to their lack of reaction to them. In both cases their absence of feeling is due to a process known as dissociation.

When our nervous system becomes overwhelmed energetically, we either reach for someone safe, fight or flee, or go into a primitive freeze response as a last line of defense. In early life, it doesn’t take much to trigger a freeze reaction. Our lower brain triggers a neurological response that splits off the energy we cannot handle low and right in the brain to prevent the upper brain from being damaged by the chemical, electrical energy that is rushing through our nervous system.

This reaction is highly adaptive and helps us survive overwhelming physical and emotional experiences. However, these events are now held in our implicit memory system, which again has no sense of time or way to distinguish between past and present.

Moreover, when it is not activated you may not even realize it is there or believe it is in the past and does not affect you now. This part of the brain just stores things as a feeling; it does not typically come with words or images. When experiencing this type of memory, you rarely realize you are having a memory.

Until recently, most of the approaches in therapy were focused on helping you contain your reactions or challenge them rationally. But if you struggle with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), you are aware these strategies do not work when you are highly triggered, nor do they resolve the underlying trauma.

In order to resolve the trauma and manifesting symptoms requires accessing the implicit memory and then allowing the energy to move through your nervous system and discharge. This cannot be achieved by just having a conversation. The implicit memory is not stored in the cognitive part of your brain.

There are many well-meaning individuals in the helping profession who create a safe environment, listen empathically, and provide support. And, yes, this has tremendous impact and can help heal trauma at a certain level. However, until the trauma is fully cleared from the body, it will continue to surface and impact your life negatively.

A great resource if you would like to learn more about this process is Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score. This will give you a much deeper understanding of the concepts I have been discussing. In addition, when you obtain assistance from a trauma specialist like myself, it will be a huge asset to you in your therapy.

One of the most meaningful parts of my job is helping people release trauma rapidly they have been carrying around for years. In the beginning of our work, I hear statements like, “It’s too late for me,” or, “I’ve been through too much.” No matter what you’ve been through or the amount, you can completely heal from anything. Thousands of clients I have work with would back me up on this statement.

My final piece of advice is to look for someone who uses experiential therapies, such as:

  • AEDP,
  • EMDR,
  • Somatic Experiencing,
  • Brainspotting,
  • Internal Family Systems,
  • Sensorimotor Psychotherapy,
  • or similar experiential therapies.

Remember, it takes more than just talking about what happened to heal from it. It will take processing your emotions related to these events and releasing them from your nervous system, but it will be well worth it.

If you have any questions, would like more information about this topic, or are interested in scheduling a session, contact me.

Boynton Beach Counseling Center
Gateway Counseling Center
1034 Gateway Blvd. #104
Boynton Beach, FL 33426
Phone: (561) 332-1818

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