American Association of Applied Physiology and Biofeedback
Zigfried Othmer, Ph.D.
Volume 3, Issue 12, April 7, 2005
During the pre-conference period I had a chance to attend Daniel Kuhn’s workshop on erasing symptoms fixated by traumatic dissociation, in particular PTSD. Kuhn’s presentation had appeal for me in various respects. First of all, he found his way to the method from an academic origin in psychoanalysis, so this work represents a significant departure from his own beginnings. That sounds auspicious. Secondly, he applies the trauma erasure method both to major and minor traumas, seeing them both in the same terms, and as subject to the same rules. He refers to the “spectrum of PTSD”. We have similarly used the term “the penumbra of trauma” to describe the extension of the PTSD model to even minor traumas. Thirdly, he employs the memory model to describe both the original establishment of the trauma and the subsequent resolution. Fourth, he recognizes that quick resolution of the traumatic impact of the original event is possible, and that verbal techniques focusing just on the causative event can have favorable consequences that then generalize. This is similar to our own observation of the transformative experience, in our case observed randomly during the alpha-theta process. Finally, Kuhn is aware that early traumas can energize and enlarge later traumas through a process of concatenation in the physiological realm, and leading to a progressive kindling of the trauma response.
Daniel Kuhn became a traumatologist by virtue of his experience in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, in which he volunteered to serve as a young psychiatrist. He had been born in Israel but had subsequently come to the United States, where he received his medical training. The war caught Israel in a state of relative unpreparedness, and soldiers found themselves woefully under-trained and unequipped for the battlefield. The resulting sense of betrayal and low morale probably led to much more PTSD than would be expected in a battle-ready force. For his part, Kuhn was also confronted with novelty. PTSD was not yet under discussion, although terms such as shell shock and battlefield psychosis covered the bases. Lengthy psychoanalysis was out of the question as a remedy. And the idea of brain plasticity was not yet available to lay the foundation for devising a remedy. Nevertheless, in the urgency of the moment, Kuhn developed his very efficient method of verbally exposing the radioactive material and of leading the person to drain the experience of its subversive grip.
A variety of simple techniques are brought to bear. The person may be asked to “unfix the viewpoint” from which the traumatic event is regarded, and to adopt a perspective outside of the event. If a person cannot separate the self from the experience, even “splitting” becomes a strategy. A person may also be asked to repeat emotionally charged words that define the experience, until a point is reached where they are reduced to mere nonsense syllables. A person may be asked to repeatedly bring up a traumatic image and then to destroy that image. A person may be asked to review the experience and to rescript it as it is envisioned. All of these techniques serve to alter the quality of the memory.
I see this technique as being most useful when one is dealing with specific, identifiable trauma events as opposed to extended trauma histories. In this regard, it is more similar to EMDR than to alpha/theta training. During the workshop nearly everyone had a chance to undergo the process, and unsurprisingly Kuhn found material to work with in everyone. There was only one real skeptic in the crowd who did not really want to go along. When one observes how frequently people gravitate to events in their distant past, it becomes evident how universally applicable the trauma model can be. Kuhn not only describes PTSD in terms of a continuum, but dissociation as well. So in the continuing grip of trauma, we live at times in trance states that may have had utility originally but are now dysfunctional. But trance states are also on a continuum. In our own jargon, trance states are observable as patterns of coherence–of network resonances–that persist in time, and fail to adapt to behavioral contingencies. They remain rooted in past experience and available for recall during periods of extreme stress. Or they even intrude upon our ordinary livelihoods. I continue to be reinforced in the view that fear and the trauma response are key organizing principles for an understanding of our experience and of our respective patterns of physiological responding. (Because of the very personal nature of the discussions at this workshop, no tape of the presentation was made.)
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