Trauma: Myths and Realities

Douglas Schooler, PhD

Psychological trauma is widely acknowledged to be a major contributor to addiction and human suffering in general. But as the mental health profession has begun to focus more and more on trauma and its effects some myths have crept into our thinking, conceptual mistakes that have greatly slowed the healing process for many patients.

Myth: Trauma causes addiction

Reality: While trauma has contributed to addiction for many people, the fact is that many people who have experienced trauma have not developed addiction. They may have other difficulties, but it is clear that there is no one-to-one chain of causality between trauma and addiction. There are many ways to think about how trauma and addiction are linked. One useful view is that the painful emotions resulting from trauma use up valuable physical and psychological energy that could be better used for fueling recovery. A related view is that if we eliminate the painful emotions from trauma the patient no longer needs substances to shut down emotional pain.

Myth: Trauma consists only of major events like rape, physical assault or death

Reality: Any event, no matter how seemingly minor, that continues to disturb a person long after it is over can rightly be considered to be trauma. I’ve worked with many patients over the years that were plagued by so called “normal” events that happened in school or at home and when the trauma was resolved their lives changed dramatically. I think of trauma with an uppercase “T” and trauma with a lowercase “t”. Everyone has experienced the latter and it’s worthwhile, in any therapeutic process, to clear up painful emotions from lowercase “t” events. Let’s face it; the painful emotions related to events that are long gone are usually worse than useless.

Myth: Trauma can only be healed by professional treatment

Reality: I have met numerous individuals who had gone through very difficult experiences and now these experiences no longer are disturbing or causing any symptoms whatsoever. However, when significant symptoms are present (such as addiction) I  think it’s advisable for anyone caught in the addictive trap to seek out a trauma specialist to at least investigate the possibility that unresolved trauma is fueling compulsions to use substances.

Myth: Healing trauma is painful.

Reality: Healing trauma need not be painful. In fact, a painful therapeutic process is a major obstacle to healing. How many people are avoiding coming in to therapy because they’ve gotten the idea that they have to suffer to heal what happened to them. They already have suffered once, going through the experience. Do we in the mental health profession think we can sell what we do by telling people you’re going to get surgery without anesthesia? That’s a tough sell, to say the least, and it’s dead wrong. Healing the painful emotions stemming from past events is all about spreading the good news, first of all, that the person survived the experience. That really is good news, because it is likely that at least part of their mind hasn’t seen that and instead has continued to perceive a threat from the event. Secondly, it’s good news that the painful meaning that the mind of the survivor attached to the experience is just that, a meaning, and not a fact. Once viewed as “just a meaning” it can be discarded like an old magazine.

Myth: Trauma needs to relived and experienced intensely in order to be treated.

Reality: Reliving trauma is certainly painful. However, it is not necessary to relive experiences in order to heal them. In fact quite the opposite is the case. Trauma can be resolved and healed painlessly. Dr. Jon Connelly has created and developed a model of trauma resolution that works quickly and painlessly and has many hundreds of therapy session videos to document this fact. His method is called Rapid Resolution Therapy. Other therapeutic systems have reported success in healing trauma without pain and one that comes to mind is the entire field of energy healing including EFT or meridian tapping. Healing trauma should be and can be a joyful process for both the therapist and patient because it really is a process of spreading the good news and getting unstuck.

Myth: Healing trauma takes a long time

Reality: Trauma can be healed quickly, sometimes in just a few minutes. Ideally the therapist realizes this is possible. Then it’s just a matter of showing the mind what really counts, that the threat is over and done with. It’s truly amazing how quickly emotions can shift when the specter of threat is removed from every facet of the mind, including the deeper, more primitive part of the mind that operates at a subconscious level.

Myth: Rape is equivalent to soul murder

Reality: While sexual assault is a major trauma for most survivors, thinking of it as soul murder actually prevents total healing and does the patient a great disservice. I’ve heard this soul murder idea on TV numerous times, often by mental health professionals. But the idea has permeated the wider culture as well and is an obstacle to healing. How does one heal a murdered soul? It doesn’t seem possible. Fortunately, the idea of soul murder is just that, an idea, a way of thinking. It is time to get rid of it and replace it with ways of thinking that actually facilitate total resolution and healing.

Myth: Major trauma like rape, war experiences, and other forms of violence can never be truly and totally healed.

Reality: How many times have we heard TV news anchors say something like: “And that experience is going to affect her for the rest of her life.” And because TV is so hypnotic, the viewing audience is nodding its collective head and even therapists are agreeing. Too bad! This view is toxic to the healing process. Truth is that total healing is not only possible, but has been achieved by so many people already who have had effective treatment. This truth needs to get out to the survivors of violence and other traumas that are still needlessly suffering.

Dr. Doug Schooler is a Licensed Psychologist and Certified Master Practitioner of Rapid Resolution Therapy. He maintains an independent practice of psychology, The Center for Rapid Resolution Therapy, in Boca Raton, providing treatment to all ages since 1985. Before coming to Florida he taught psychology at Eastern Michigan University. He graduated from Queens College in 1964 and received his PhD in psychology from the University of Rhode Island in 1976.  www.DouglasSchooler.com