This week’s guest, Christine Gibson caught my attention on TikTok. In several of her videos, she talks about two types of therapy, top-down and bottom-up therapy. In this episode, she joins me to talk about therapeutic modalities, like EFT, for healing trauma. We also explore the powerful ways our body responds in connection with our nervous system to trauma.
Christine is a family doctor and trauma therapist in Calgary, Canada. She has studied systems thinking, the use of storytelling towards healing, and created a residency training program in health equity.
We talk about:
- Christine shares how the EFT modality can help with healing trauma. (5:59)
- The 2 types of trauma therapy: top-down (talk-based work) and bottom-up (body-based work). (9:00)
- Christine explains the Polyvagal Theory and how the different parts of the nervous system respond to stress. (18:31)
- We explore just how deeply the body and the brain are connected. (31:54)
- If someone is certain they have experienced trauma, Christine offers some thoughts on how to start healing. (39:21)
- Feeling heard and being seen is one of the goals of therapy. Validation of your feelings is what helps you heal. (51:48)
“I don’t think we are broken when we’ve been through trauma. But it certainly feels like we are. I don’t think we need to be fixed. Our body is adapting. Post-traumatic growth is possible.”
Resources mentioned in this episode:
Christine on TikTok @tiktoktraumadoc
Christine’s website ModernTrauma.com – coming soon!
Episode 425: Trauma-Informed Versus Able to Treat
Episode 432: CASTMWUP: Andrea and Amy on profound humiliation and its impact
Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown
Sounds True – Befriending Your Nervous System with Deb Dana
Christine is a family doctor and trauma therapist in Calgary, Canada. She is an Avenue Top40Under40, a TEDx alumnus, and is starting a Doctoral program in London in 2022. She has studied systems thinking, the use of storytelling towards healing, and created a residency training program in health equity. Now, she focuses on trauma – as @tiktoktraumadoc on Tiktok and in a soon-to-be-released book, which will be practical and include the lens of storytelling and of equity. Learn more and sign up for the book launch info at christinegibson.net.
I think one of the fallacies around trauma is that we have to get rid of these coping strategies because they're rooted in trauma and they're bad for us. Actually, no, we need those like they help us function during really stressful responses. We just don't want dissociation to show up in our day-to-day life.
You're listening to Make Some Noise Podcast episode number 441 with guest Christine Gibson.
Welcome to Make Some Noise Podcast, your guide for strategies, tools and insights to empower yourself. I'm your host, Andrea Owen, global speaker, entrepreneur, life coach since 2007, and author of three books that have been translated into 18 languages and are available in 22 countries. Each week, I'll bring you a guest or a lesson that will help you maximize unshakable confidence, master resilience and make some noise in your life. You ready? Let's go.
Hey, everyone, welcome to another episode of the podcast. I am so glad that you are here. So we're rounding the corner. As far as these episodes about therapy, trauma therapy, different modalities, etc. I believe, I can't promise, but I believe we are done at the end of April and then we are going into relationships. I can't wait. All different aspects of relationships we're going to talk about so stay tuned for that.
Did I tell you, this has nothing to do with anything at all, but did I tell you that I'm growing my gray hair out? If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen it. So I decided, oh gosh, it's been a handful of months now, that I would do it. It's kind of a long, boring story that includes like hair color and stuff that I bore you with. But essentially, I got a new hairdresser last year and she stopped covering up my gray. She was still putting highlights in. I don't really understand how it all works, how the magic and the science comes together to make people's hair beautiful. But she stopped covering it up with like a dark brown. And I you know, my gray was showing through a little bit more and I'm like, hey, this isn't so bad. Fuck it, let's just grow it out. I am very impulsive like that. And so she's like, yeah, let's do it. Yay. And then, so it's happening, and it looks really great except now I've got several inches of regrowth. And I don't know I'm gonna have to reach out to a couple of people that I know who've gone through this process. Is this part of the process? Like the holy shit, what have I done part of the process because it's a lot more obvious now and my gray hair is unruly. Like it's, I'm like meeting this whole different personality that I did not know existed that grows out of my scalp. What? What? It, like I'll pull it back like right now it's back in a, it's long enough where I can just put it in a brand button and then like pull it through like a little ponytail like tied in a knot and there's it looks like Do you remember doc from Back to the Future? What's his name? Christopher Lloyd, the actor. He’s like Marty! And he's got all this like hair. It's great hair. That's what I feel like. Or like the old mother…not when her hair was black but when she you know, didn't have the magic. And that's what it's feeling like I'm like, oh, oh. It's a process. It's this whole thing. I'm not going back, I have way too much pride to do that. Like never mind, I changed my mind everyone. I just think the whole thing is, it's a journey just like life. Just like we talked about over here on the podcast.
Okay. Christine Gibson is here today. I'm excited for you to hear this conversation. She talks about… Originally she caught my attention on TikTok because she talks about the two different types of therapy top down or bottom up, which you will hear about and a really fun tool that I love she calls it informations. You'll hear about that. Okay.
And before we get into it, there are a handful of spots left for the during a retreat that's happening in September in Asheville, North Carolina. You can head on over to AndreaOwen.com/retreat. I know that Brené Browns HBO series has recently come out and that's super exciting. So if you watch that, if you read Atlas of the Heart, there was a lot of correlation between the things that she talks about in the book and in the HBO series and the Netflix The Call to Courage special if you caught that a year or two ago to what we talked about and go over and what you'll learn in the Daring Way curriculum at the retreat in September, so head on over to Andrea Owen.com/retreat. And let's get on with the show.
Let me tell you about our guest today. Christine is a family doctor and trauma therapist in Calgary, Canada. She is an Avenue top 40 under 40, a TEDx alumni and is starting a doctoral program in London in 2022. She has studied systems of thinking the use of storytelling towards healing and created a residency training program in health equity. Now she focuses on trauma as TikTok Trauma Doc on TikTok, and in a soon to be released book, which will be practical and include the lens of storytelling, and of equity. So without further ado, here is Christine.
Christine, thank you so much for being here.
Oh, it's a pleasure.
All right. I'm going to jump in because I have so many questions for you. And I want to make sure that we have enough time and I had to cut us off because I have so many personal questions for you. I'm like, I need to share this with the listeners. But I'm going to I'm going to kind of go out of order. Because you and I were just talking about EFT tapping and I've had some experts on to talk about that modality. But can you share specifically, because I think we've talked about it previously, around kind of, you know, like acute things that are happening. You know, I've used it for the major stressors that are going on in my life. And it's been super helpful, but you talk about how EFT can help with trauma. So can you provide like an example of that?
Yeah, absolutely. Um, so I trained in EFT with a couple, Alina Frank and Craig Wiener out of Washington State and as a part of their basic training program to get certified, you actually have to do their program on, it's called Tapping Out of Trauma. So Craig teaches that with somebody different, but for their certification, they think, well, trauma can show up no matter what you're tapping on, and you have to be kind of prepared for those responses. And then he actually did a 2.0 version of that, which I also did, because trauma is my thing. So I was actually trained in tapping for trauma, through the instruction that I had initially done. And it's interesting, because they kind of did it in like a themed way.
So one common thing that comes up for me, which I never would have anticipated until I started doing trauma work is going to the dentist. So I've had a lot of people who feel that that's a very vulnerable position. And then a lot of people who've had specific traumas related to their mouth. And I don't think dentists really understand how triggering they can be. So a trip to the dentist can be full of apprehension and the problem is, once you have that association that oh, this is going to be hard for me, your sympathetic nervous system starts sending out those fight and flight chemicals to the rest of your body and then that can be like a snowball that very quickly starts rolling downhill once those chemicals have started being put out, and your body feels, oh gosh, look, I'm getting anxious, and it travels down that pathway. By the time you're at the dentist with, you know, him doing the work or her doing the work, you're in a full-blown panic attack and it's, you know, overwhelming to be in that chair. So something like tapping can be really helpful for you to dissociate the feeling of going to the dentist and those physical sensations and the emotions that show up and you disconnect them from the dentist so that when you go to the dentist, you have a more neutral feeling about it. So you're basically just dialing down the intensity of the association. That I love about tapping.
Okay, okay, I now of course, I'm like, oh, I want to ask you so many things that are related to that, but I'm gonna follow the script. I'm gonna follow the script. Okay. So let's talk about… Can you explain to the audience how you talk about like two different types of trauma therapy top down, bottom up. So can you… What does that what does that mean?
Yeah,absolutely. It's one of my favorite… I should… It's so hard when you're on TikTok. You can only pin certain videos, and absolutely one of my favorite videos, because not a lot of people talk about it. And I think it's really important. So a lot of people think that doing CBT alone…
What is CBT for people who don't know what that is.
Absolutely, thank you. Cognitive Behavior Therapy. It's what is in medicine, we learn it's the gold standard, or it's the very best thing to do for trauma. And so I was under that impression for the first, you know, 15 years of my career and it wasn't until I started digging deeper than I learned about top down and bottom up. Top down is when you use your brain to help your body's symptoms of that trauma response or that threat response come online. So it helps you understand the thoughts that you have related to those danger signals.
Which is CBT correct?
CBT? Yes, absolutely. Yeah. But there's lots of other cognitive therapies. So, even DBT, so Dialectic Behavior Therapy, which, for some reason, has been linked only to people with borderline personality, but I've yet to meet a person with that label, who doesn't actually have complex trauma in the background. So DBT is a beautiful modality that you can do both thinking and activities, to handle distress, to manage your emotions, to show up in relationships differently. So DBT is really really useful. I frankly, think all kids should learn these schools of skills in school. There's also Acceptance Commitment Therapy, which I'm a huge fan of, which is another branch of cognitive work. What I love about that one is it shows up with like, your values, like who are you as a person, how do you want to show up in the world, and then when we're retraining and reframing your thinking patterns, we're really doing it in this purposeful way.
So all of that is cognitive. There's tons of different cognitive therapies. For trauma, specifically, there's Cognitive Processing therapy, there's Prolonged Exposure Therapy, where you're introducing yourself to, you know, more and more significant relations to that trauma information. I personally don't use PE, and I don't advocate for it, because there's so many other ways to clear trauma responses without it being quite so exposed and quite so painful. And that will launch me into bottom up. So bottom up means that you use those body-based processes. So those danger signals result in that cascade of chemicals that affect your whole body. And as soon as you start to notice, hey, my heart's pounding a little bit, I'm feeling a bit sweaty, there's that lump in my throat, I'm queasy. Okay, those are my danger signals having been activated, I wonder what's going on. So instead of approaching it from a thought and thinking, okay, I'm just going to think my way out of this, you do a body based practice, we call that Somatic Therapy, and the somatic work where you're using the body to interrupt that danger pathway is super powerful. And it's been ignored a lot in the therapeutic process, but it's starting to become more and more available, and unfortunately, not as accessible.
So there is a long history of somatic work starting with, there's the book Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine and he does somatic experiencing and now he has a whole program available on Sounds True and you can listen to it. My hesitation around that stuff as he talks about some pretty like traumatic details when he's giving his case examples. And if you're listening to this, you know, podcast-type program by yourself, and you're like you're getting really triggered by the content of it, you know, you could go down these pathways of flooding or freezing. So I generally recommend at least starting these somatic techniques with somebody who's trained who can help you recognize when you're flooding, which is that overwhelm of the danger signal, and freezing, which is like you're so overwhelmed that your body just shuts right now.
So I love bottom-up work, I do a fair bit of it with the tapping that we've mentioned, also havening and tremoring. I've trained, there's a version, very similar to Peter Levine's called Sensorimotor
psychotherapy, that's through a woman named Pat Ogden. I've done her level one training, so I incorporate that into a lot of what I do. So the body-based work, there's just so much out there that you can train on. I'm studying brain spotting this weekend, which is where you look at things with your eyes. Though there are so many different modalities out there, it almost gets overwhelming to try to figure out what you want to explore. And it's also not super accessible. So one of the reasons I'm writing this book is because only people who have like $150 or $200 an hour to spare are going to be able to find one of these therapists and paid for it and I just don't think that's fair.
Absolutely not. Yeah. Oh my gosh, I have so many like personal anecdotes and questions for you. I'm so glad that I am doing this theme around specific therapies because I didn't even know about all of this. So CBT is what I was introduced to in 2002, when I was first diagnosed with anxiety disorder, and it was incredibly helpful. Like I had never had anybody, tell me like, oh, you can actually learn to manage those racing thoughts that were like, tearing me down into physical symptoms, you know, vomiting, armpits tingling, numb fingers, like I would get all of that with my panic attacks. And then they say, in the rooms of 12 steps, like it works until it doesn't. CBT.
So it wasn't until 2020, the onset of the pandemic, where things kicked back up for me, which I know it did for many people. And I was like, I really need to start digging into somatic work again. And, and I did and it was, it was really helpful. And I forget, I forget the name of what exactly she did a couple of different things with me. And it was tough because it was virtual, because of the pandemic. And it was like, I feel like this would be… And especially as someone like, as I was telling you, before we started recording who is very resistant to somatic work, which I think is fairly common, probably people who grow up in this culture, I do feel like it would have been a little bit easier for me and just able to trust my practitioner better being in person. However, I've recently heard about havening and brainspotting, a friend of mine told me to look into it. And it's not cheap. And I am so glad you're writing this book before I forget. When does it come out? And what is the name of it?
It's the Modern Trauma Toolkit and it'll be out in about a year or so they're predicting to spring 2023. So even though I'm wrapping up the first draft this week, it's quite a process to get it published and the publisher is in both the US and the UK. So they have like global rights, but the book tour and like all of the PR is going to be happening in the States first, which feels so strange. So I'm going to probably have to like arrange my own little Canadian book tour, which I've been actually dreaming about, like, I love small towns so I just drove across to Canada for the first time, this summer. And as I was going, I was like, wow, if I could stop in all of these small towns and like do a little bit of reading.
Because when I talk about accessibility part of it, too, is like how rural Canada access a therapist who's trained in all these, like super random things. So the more that we can open that gate towards access for everybody that's just really important to me. My whole career has been predicated on health equity spaces, and the work that I do is with refugees, and also at the addiction clinic, and nobody that I work with could afford private therapy. And to me, that's just such a shame. Because I think if we have universal health care in Canada, it should absolutely be covering mental health. Like everybody could use that, especially now like pre pandemic, we used to say like, oh, one in five people are suffering from a mental health disorder. And I mean, that's where you could diagnose it from, like, the DSM, the Bible of psychiatry. Like if we start to look at mental health symptoms, which is like that sympathetic nervous system being too overactive, or the one that not a lot of people talk about, so I don't know if you've had guests talk about the Polyvagal Theory but…
That was one of my next questions for you. My question was around like the polyvagal Institute level one, and it's, it sounds complicated, but can you kind of break it down? In layman's terms please.
Yeah, absolutely. I'm a huge fan of the Polyvagal Theory, but it is really hard to kind of get a grip on because the people who talk about it the most are the person who came up with a theory. His name is Dr. Stephen Porges and he's, like a basic science researcher. So it wasn't until he started talking to clinicians that he realized the theory that he came up with related to trauma. And then there's a woman named Deb Dana, and she is the clinician, so she does clinical therapy and she's the one who uses the Polyvagal Theory and therapy. So she's the one who launched the polyvagal Institute and teaches through the institute, but she has a ton of instructors that were really fantastic who taught us through that program. Only level one is available at this point and you do have to be a therapist to take the program.
Okay, so what is it's, it's a nerve Correct?
Kind of. So Deb just also launched a Sounds True program called Befriending Your Nervous System and so she does a great explanation of it and just like a single podcast episode on Sounds True and then if you're wanting to dive really deep she has that. She also just came out with a book called Anchored. So you can access Dana's work non clinically, just this year. So before this year, everything was just aimed at therapists. And I heard about it through, like a friend of mine who worked at the Food Center and she was explaining this to me and I was like, you know, this is a way better explanation for everything that I see in the clinic, compared to the stuff that I see in the DSM. Because if I look at everybody through the lens of the DSM, they would leave the office with like three different diagnoses. But if I look at them through the lens of the Polyvagal Theory, it's such a beautiful, simple explanation for what your nervous system does under stress.
So we've already talked about the sympathetic nervous system, that's the first thing that kicks in when you're stressed out. And that's like, the adrenaline, the epinephrine, and it makes your heart pound and you sweat, and all of those things that you described with that panic attack. What people don't understand is the vagus nerve. And that's when you were talking about like this one nerve. So your vagus nerve goes up into your face. And when you were saying earlier, I feel like I relate to people better in person. That's the ventral vagus nerve that's in your face. And it's in control of facial expressions, and also parts of your inner ear. So, and your voice box. So I'm speaking in a prosonic voice, so that's like kind of a maternal melodic voice. Very, very important for a person who's under stress to hear that kind of a voice. So harsh tones, angry, we're angry, yeah, angry sounding vocal tones really hard for person who's been through trauma. Same with facial expressions, which is why somebody who's got anxiety, they might really appreciate that people are wearing masks because the pandemic makes them anxious. But there's also a part of them that's like, gosh, I wonder what that person's really thinking. So masks can make therapy really hard, which is why I actually love doing zoom therapy, because then we can use our facial expressions and when we do that, when we kind of feel connected through our faces and voices, that's called attunement and it's actually the most important thing in any kind of therapy. So when you're saying, gosh, there was something just kind of missing, that might have been a piece of that attunement that was missing, like your vagus nerve that's in your face didn't feel quite safe enough in that environment.
So that's the safety vagus nerve and we call that ventral vagus because ventral means forward. And that's the part that's going into your face so it's going forward. It's a more recent evolutionary part of your nervous system. There's a vagus nerve that also goes backwards. So we call that dorsal vagus because dorsal back. So the dorsal vagus system, is the part that shuts your body down. So when your sympathetic nervous system that fight and flight response has been completely overwhelmed, and your body's just like, I can't handle this anymore. Like, I've just been busy keeping your tone and your muscles and pounding your heart, and I'm just done, I can't do it. That's when the dorsal vagal response kicks in and that's a shutdown response. So, in animals like mammals, we call that feign death like a deer or bunnies been running away from a predator and then it just kind of plays possum it just like lays down and pretends it's dead and hopes the problem goes away. That's the dorsal vagus nerve. And humans do that by like, I can't get out of bed, I can't get off the couch, I have this list of things to do and I just can't even get started. The whole thing just seems overwhelming. Like, I'm not maintaining my self-care anymore. That is dorsal vagal response to threat. And we have so much shame built into that response, like anxiety and busyness as a part of Western culture, but like that shutdown response, thenit triggers shame, which cycles the whole thing to get worse and worse. But for many people, it's actually not lazy, it's a threat-based response. And your body is just completely overwhelmed. And it's choosing to shut down to keep you safe. So the thing about trauma is, there's all this shame built into those trauma responses, but they're adaptive. They're all protected. And it's your body doing its best to protect you even though in today's Western society, these responses make life a bit difficult.
Yeah, it's not the same response like the dorsal is it the dorsal vagal or dorsal vagus nerve?
Dorsal vagal response.
Dorsal vagal response? Is that the same one or is it different when… Because I can count probably just on one hand, how many times I have and I don't know if it's like derealization or dissociation where… I've always kind of joked that I'm great in a crisis and what really happens is it's a way for me to completely shut down so that I don't get emotional and I over-function. So it's happened when I got the fateful phone call that my husband had been having an affair. I remember where I was standing, I was at a Barnes and Noble and I didn't hear anything or see anything, I didn't cry, I didn't do anything, and then I started laughing hysterically. That was one time… My daughter had to have emergency surgery, she had a ruptured appendix and my husband was, how do I say this nicely, not able to help. So I was like, and my daughter was hysterical. And I just was like, okay, I'm gonna do all the things. I don't even know if I ever really truly processed how incredibly scary that was, and that we could have lost her she only five. So is that what's happening, like when it… Because… Or is that different? Because what the examples that you described were things that I don't I don't really experience that, like, I'm always like, over functioning.
Yeah. So that was a combination of two, two active nervous systems at the same time. So it's a bit of a fallacy to think you're all sympathetic, and we're all dorsal vagal or parasympathetic. You can have elements of both of them activating. So the part of the dorsal vagal response that you experienced was derealization, which is that disconnection from self. So it's almost like an out of body experience, when you're kind of watching yourself do all the things and you don't really feel like you're kind of thinking through them. It's almost an automatic reflex that shows up. That is a bit of a dissociative response and dissociative responses are super helpful.
Like, I think one of the fallacies around trauma is that we have to get rid of these coping strategies, because they're, they're rooted in trauma, and they're bad for us. Actually, no, we need those like they help us function during really stressful responses. We just don't want dissociation to show up in our day-to-day life. So great that you were able to like kind of dissociate and just get’er done. So you use your sympathetic nervous system, which is the one that keeps us moving and doing the things and the parasympathetic response of just kind of dissociating and those two kind of showed up together in those events. Interestingly, when you say you started laughing hysterically, that is connected to your dorsal vagus nerve, because it goes all the way down in innervates down to the diaphragm, and things that trigger the diaphragm can trigger hiccupping, laughing, and crying.
So when I've done there's one other somatic thing that I've trained in called tremoring. And I teach people how to shake things off the way a dog or a horse does, like, you know, if a dog gets super stressed out, they just like shake their whole body? Humans can do that. So I have taught tons of patients how to do it and like 95% of people can learn very quickly how like, it's something that we naturally do, but we suppress it. A lot of times they'll start hysterically laughing. I actually have done that when they're doing the tremor and it's because that vagus nerve is kind of innervating your diaphragm and it just starts making your diaphragm muscle get really twitchy. And when it’s twitchy, it can trigger laughing, crying or hiccupping. Yawning. There's a lot of things that actually happen with the lungs when you're letting go of trauma and it's your vagus nerve resetting. It's your vagus nerve, kind of changing its sensitivity. So it's really cool once you start to understand the way that works in the body, and that combination of like, the psychotherapy piece and the physiology, which is kind of where I live. I just think it's incredible what the body can do.
It's fascinating. And I'm assuming that it's helpful as one starts to step into this work. The more somatic modality is that they start to realize how their body responds because I'm an I'm a twitcher, too, it's happened to me when I both am full of rage and don't have where it's like socially unacceptable to dispel it. And when I've done the somatic work with my last therapist I twitch. And the way I described it to where I said, it feels like there's one of those bouncy balls that you get out of the little 25 cent things, you know, that you can they bounce over all the walls, I feel like that is happening in my body. And she said, yeah, it's working.
Yeah, Peter Levine calls it sequencing. So, yeah. There's all different, like, therapies have kind of different theories around it. But yeah, you're totally letting go. The way I think of it is, when you're in fight and flight your body's like, okay, we clearly have to get away from this problem, we either have to fight it off, or we have to run away and so your body gets you ready by sending all of its energy to your heart and your muscles so that you can run away from something. But the stuff that we're afraid of in modern time isn't like, you know, a bear or a natural disaster because we're not physically having to run away from our problems the way we did when humans evolved. So we get all this stuck muscle tone that's kind of like tensing our bodies to get us ready to figure out these threads. But we can't figure out our threats in a physical way anymore so we end up with a lot of muscle tension. And so a lot of people have like, tension in their neck and tension, like headaches and, you know, even tense front body responses like tension like that knot in the stomach feeling. That's physical tension and one of the beautiful things about tremoring, or that sequencing response that you experience is you're letting go of what I call sympathetic tone, which is your fight and flight system sending energy to your muscles. And as you tense up, you kind of need to let it go.
So another thing that can work really easily is exercise. Like if you exercise anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes per day, you're actually letting go of that sympathetic tone every single day. And when I've had really significant anxiety in my life, when I was doing like, inpatient medicine, when I was married, like, when I had really significant anxiety, I had to work out every day, or it just like overwhelmed me on a daily and I had crazy high blood pressure and it turned out my blood pressure was just related to my sympathetic nervous system and once I got it under control, it was normal again.
That same thing happened to me. I mean, it was chronic, from the age of like, in my mid 20s and I was in that relationship until, and then I was just medicated for so long and it wasn't until we left the state, and I had to find a new doctor and I didn't get my prescription refilled and it had been like several months that I had been, and I was, you know, in a new marriage, everything and she checked my blood pressure, she's like, it's actually normal and I was like, it hasn't been normal, since like, my I was a teenager. And she said, and I was so confused by that, and she said, sometimes it's just unexplained. And this was, you know, like a regular doctor. So I had a hunch that it was some kind of emotional thing that had happened.
And when I was just a regular doctor, I did not understand any of this either. I had to do so much extra work to learn it. Like I took two solid years, I mean, I'm still learning because I love learning, I just started a doctorate this year, because like, I don't already have one. I just love learning. So I just thought, well, I'm going to learn all the things, because my patients can't access any of it. So I took like 20 different training programs. But once I started learning about the trauma responses, I started understanding that like, if you're stuck in that sympathetic nervous system the way you were in your 20s and 30s and the way I was when I was at the hospital, you're shutting off your digestive system, your fertility system, your immune system. So when you're in sympathetic response, the parasympathetic system doesn't happen. You're shutting off your sleep systems which is connected to immunity as well.
So if we start to look at the organism as a whole, and not to think of the brain as one thing in the body as another, it's so deeply connected. And I started to understand that. You know, we're taught in medical school, that stress relates to different physical symptoms, but now that I understand it so much better, like that connection to me is so important. When you think of chronic pain, so much of it is actually the same responses through the same systems that happen through trauma. When you think about addiction, it's those same chemical systems that happen through trauma. So my understanding of the brain body system is so enhanced by understanding trauma. And I really wish we learned a lot more about this in medical school.
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I have so many questions but I intuitively am thinking what people are probably wondering as they're listening to this is… You know of course we can look big picture and I'm so curious about all the different modalities and how they relate to trauma and healing trauma more specifically but what if someone is listening to this who is certain or fairly certain they've had some trauma in their life that is holding them back in some way or another, whether it is manifesting as poor sleep or any of the things that you mentioned, or even just like lack of self-confidence or who knows any list of things. Where should they even start?
Part of it is accessibility right so if you have an Employee Benefits Program, or if you have some private insurance that allows you to access a modality, start there. Like start with a thing that's easily accessible to you. If you have a suspicion that the issue is trauma, I always suggest doing a quick interview for fit with your therapist to make sure that they're trauma informed. And that's just like, especially if you identify like, as kind of within that non dominant paradigm, like if you're gay or trans, or if you're a person of color, you really want to make sure that the therapist can hold a safe space for you. And I would just ask, like, are you familiar with these clients, like, how does how does this work for you, what's your comfort level? And then around being trauma informed. It's kind of like, so what would you do if I had a panic attack during therapy? Like, what are your kind of responses. You're looking for that flooding. So flooding is like that panic and freezing is kind of like that dissociation that you described, when you're just like floating above your body. Those are really common trauma responses, and some therapists handle them better than others. Some therapists jump straight into the content of trauma and it’s something…
Is that more like talk therapy, you mean?
Yeah, like, let's talk about your trauma in session one and I want you to tell me about all the ways you've been traumatized. To me that's not trauma informed. Trauma informed is starting with the present, like what are the symptoms of those traumas that are showing up in the present moment, becoming more mindfully aware of how your body is responding in the present related to those past experiences, and then once you're feeling safe in the present, then you can start approaching the past. So that to me is how a trauma informed therapist shows up.
And just trying to understand the way that they approach traumatic experiences will help you. The key is listening to that gut instinct, if your guts telling you like runaway, this isn't safe, then it's probably not a safe modality for you. But if they're creating that safe space through attunement, like those facial expressions and tone of voice. And if you feel safe, in that the way you're hearing them is landing well in your body, like, they're not triggering that scary system, then that's probably a good one for you.
Okay, thank you for laying that out. I did a minisode, a few weeks back where I talked about the difference between trauma informed and able to treat, because we're seeing the term trauma informed a lot lately and my worry is that people are getting that confused, especially like life coaches, who maybe even have no training as a coach, which I can't, I can’t with that. So like, for me, I'm trauma informed, and that, only me… Like I'm not trained in it. It is way beyond the scope of what I do but if somebody feels safe in a workshop, or as a client, sharing with me a traumatic thing that happened to them, I'm able to hold space for them, and ask them the right questions to make sure that they feel safe but we are very clear that I'm not here to treat them. I'm here to hold that space, and also refer them to someone who is trained to actually treat them.
I appreciate you saying, you know, for me as someone who had, and still has major trust issues with other humans, it was, I mean, I had to have… It was six to eight talk therapy sessions with my trauma therapist before I was ready to go into the somatic work and I was very frank with her and I just said, I don't trust you. It's not personal, I don't trust anybody. And so, I am, I had to get really honest, because there was also a part of me, who was like, okay, let's go in let's, let's fix this. Let's let's do it. And that's, my body's gonna say, that's cute, but no.
I've got two thoughts about that. I mean, we could probably talk for like six hours, because…and you bring up so many important things. So the first one is, the more you talk about your trauma the more you enforce the travel, like the journey towards that path. So the more that you think and talk about your traumas, the more that your brain will continue to do that. So your brain loves familiarity and as soon as you set up a pattern of like, this is what we do your brains like, oh, this is what we do. We just continue down this path every single time. And that's really how triggers and flashbacks happen is like that's a familiar path that sends your brain down, making that journey towards the trauma memory. And what we actually want to do in therapy is disconnected. So I actually do not encourage people to talk about their trauma, because it strengthens that pathway and in neurology we say what fires together wires together and you strengthen those memories, the more you talk about them, so I encourage you a lot of non talk therapy about trauma. So when I work with my patients, we rarely get into the details about the traumas that have happened to them. That's why I'm such a huge fan of accelerated resolution therapy is you don't even talk about the thing that happened at all. You think it, but within like an hour and a half, you've completely changed that pathway. So instead of that pathway being the thing your brain wants to do, it's now a thing that your brains like, no, maybe not.
The second thing that you mentioned that I thought was fascinating was those trust issues. And yes, it could absolutely have to do with the things that happened through marriage, or the things that happened through, you know, being bullied or having poor job experiences. But a lot of times when it's like, like you talked about this, like visceral wow I don't trust you even in a relationship that you should be able to trust them a little bit. And oftentimes I find that those experiences have something to do with preverbal memories, like something that happened before the age of three that you couldn't even name or ancestral traumas. And that's where somatic work and metaphorical work can be really, really beautiful. Because the language of the subconscious mind is not thinking and talking. The language of the subconscious mind is movement and metaphor and imagery. And not everybody is trained in that stuff. But if there's ancestral trauma, and you know, certain communities of people have encountered more of that, but the more that we talk about it, Thomas Huebl does a lot on this. There's these collective traumas that we all kind of carry as this like global community, like if we think about the pandemic, or climate change, like we're carrying this stuff in our tissues now and there's huge amounts of ancestral trauma that all of us could probably on earth if we had access to it. So one of the beautiful things about me doing all of these therapy trainings is every time you do something, you have to practice it on yourself. And I'm like, oh, wow, there's that too. Because, like, when you're in a helping profession, you're like, oh, I'm good. I'm holding space for all the others. But then you realize, oh, yeah, I'm a human too, I'm going to show up in that way. So yeah, that's another thing that I love. The connection to somatic work is like, well, what else are you holding on that's not even yours?
Mm hmm. Oh, my gosh, it's so interesting. I, selfishly like, I want to, I want to tell you this. I think the reason that I was so adamant and have been for the last 15 years that has taken a turn for the better about telling my story and wanting to trust a therapist enough, you know, I needed to hear this story first, is because it was sort of this double edged sword because I wanted someone to see me in my pain for all of what it really was. And I didn't even totally understand it so it was awkward, but also was the thing I was terrified of. And so what ended up happening is, and I shared this on another episode that I did with my best friend. And is that I don't know, if you dive into Brené Browns work at all. And she, her new book came out Atlas of the Heart, and she was talking specifically about humiliation. And that I think Linda Hartfield is the woman who they just had a humiliation and Brené said that they had to go back to their research and look at the data and actually change some of the definitions around humiliation. Because when I was trained in it, they talked about shame and humiliation, very similar physical response. The difference is that, you know, shame is just you know, very rudimentary generally speaking, shame is you feel like a bad person, like you deserve that humiliation or you feel like you didn't deserve it. And I felt like they kind of just like, humiliation is that we're not going to talk about that we're gonna focus on guilt, shame. Those are like the biggest things. It wasn't until there was a podcast episode and Brené was reading this new definition of humiliation and how it strips someone's dignity, it just rips to the core of who you are in your identity and it also the data shows that it leads to homicidal and suicidal behavior. And I had to turn the podcast off because I, and it's still like my throat like clenches up when I talk about it, because it was for the first time. I felt like that is somebody who sees me and my experience, and I just, and that's what I kept saying when it first happened is like, I feel so humiliated. And there's a scene, one more thing, there's a scene that I cannot watch without crying from the Sex in the City movie, where Mr. Big leaves Carrie at the altar. Did you ever see the movie?
Um, was that the first one or the second one was the first one?
So it was like it was a long time ago. Yeah, like ‘06 or something? Yeah. And he they pass each other in the cars in the streets of New York and they stopped the car and Mr. Big gets and he's like, Carrie, I'm so sorry. And she runs up to him and she starts hitting him with her flowers. And she's like, you have humiliated me. And I still watch it and I'm like, that's what that is. Hmm. Since then, since I saw that, I heard that definition and I watched that scene and I'm like, okay, it's almost like my nervous system is like, thank you. That's what we've been trying to tell you this whole time for a decade and a half. And that's where I feel like the hairpin turn happened. And I'm like, okay. And it was almost as if I've been stuck for a decade and a half, that I couldn't name it. And not only could I not name it, nobody else totally understood.
And even people who had similar stories of infidelity, and just like that profound humiliation, never named it. Until finally, and I'm like, it's not really shame, like it kind of is, but and I always felt like it was kind of like me as humiliation anyway, so that was, I think the thing that, like, I kept talking about it, because I kept trying to understand it, like, what is this? Or get like a therapist to understand it. And so, and that's been fairly recent that that happened. And that was, that blew the lid off. I'm telling you, Christine, like it blew the lid off, for my own my own treatment. And I don't mean to make this whole podcast episode about me, I'm sorry, everybody, but they've been hearing me talk about for like years.
I think it's a good example of a journey in someone's therapy, and healing their trauma. Because it can be confusing, like, I felt like it was so confusing at times, and I just wanted it to be gone. And then there's a whole conversation on expectation management and all that stuff. But anyway, I'm gonna stop talking.
What I love about what you said was just like feeling hurt, feeling seen. No, like, like, your therapist should, at the minimum do that. So even if we didn't have those, right, clinical definition of humiliation, and, girl, I've been through all of what you've been through, like, it's, it's really, really hard. And feeling heard and feeling seen, is the goal of therapy. And like, that's where you know, you're in the right place is if you're getting that feeling from the person you're talking to. And I've had to switch therapists twice now, when I was with somebody that I just didn't feel was hearing me and seeing me. And now I have one like kind of talk therapist and one somatic therapist and, like, I feel like I'm getting very different things from each of them. And I knew that I needed something a little bit different. So but that's privileged, right? Like, I'm privileged to be able to find those people and access them.
But that validation, and like there's nothing wrong with you, you're not broken, these trauma responses are valid, your feelings about the things you've been through are valid. You know, that's the thing that heals, not necessarily telling the details of the story, although that's the doorway into some, for some people, for sure. And you don't want to deny them that. Especially like, if it's a historically oppressed group, and they're just like, I need you to see me. Like, I remember doing something with a friend actually, who had a panic attack while we were traveling and she said, you have no idea what it means to have a white woman sit there and listen to me for an hour, everything that I want to talk about, and you're just gonna sit there and listen, she's like, that was just as therapeutic as the thing that we just went through to help me with my panic. And that wasn't something I really thought of before. So like, obviously, she was a person of color, she was indigenous. And I just think that there's all these powerful ways that bodies respond and connection, and that bodies respond with our nervous systems that we are just starting to understand and it is such an incredible thing to be a part of that understanding. Like, we've only been studying trauma since the 1970s. Like this is a really new thing. And it's only really caught on in the last, you know, five or ten years where people have been doing more and more talking about it and feeling like it was a socially acceptable thing to talk about. Which is why I do TikTok. I love being part of that community. I contribute but I also learn a ton.
Yeah, and now you said all that like it for me, you know, as a as a privileged white woman, it very much is less about the story, and just about the impact that it had on my body and my behavior and my who I was as a person especially who I was as a woman. That's what I think I really wanted the validation about because I felt like… It's very lonely when you feel like there's Not a proper explanation for what you're feeling and like, there's words and definitions that are almost right, but not quite. It's kind of like trying to reach orgasm, like, almost there, I need a beat drop. That's that I can, the best I couldn't come up with. So finally…
I think you're I think you're onto something.
You know, to her credit, my last therapist did see me and what I had shared and, and honestly, was the first person who showed me that what I was in was an abusive relationship. And showed me what you know, talking about trauma bonding was and reactive abuse and all those things. So I thank her for that. And, yeah, it's, I think, at the end of the day, my deep exhale is around, I don't mean to sound cliche, but it is quite a journey. It is quite a journey. And my hope is that this type of mental health accessibility becomes more accessible for more people. And, and also, I'm very happy that we have a language around it, we're starting to develop a language around it that, that people understand who who aren't doctors and PhDs, we can have these conversations, hopefully, with people we trust in our children. And so the generations after us can, can truly contribute make an change.
And sadly, even the doctors don't all understand, like, that's, that's what I was kind of trying to, you know, share is I did not know this stuff until I took private money and private time and then invested in learning it. So I really think it needs to get into medical education, I think it needs to get into the schools. So one thing I am designing in the next year is like a trauma informed certification program. And I want to teach teachers how to like, how to calm kids down when their sympathetic nervous system are overactive, and how to recognize when a kid's dissociating like, I actually think the general public needs more access to this information. Like it's something we all should know. I think it's more important than calculus right now
Or learning about the French Revolution.
Yeah, my goal is to try to share this with more and more and more people. So I'm really appreciative that you're doing the same thing.
I've taken up so much of your time. I appreciate you so much Christine and I would love to have you back when your book comes out if you can make a virtual trip this way. And so tell us where people go to learn more about you, to preorder your book when it's available. All those things. Of course, I'm going to put your tick tock link in the show notes. But where else?
Yeah, I love I love the TikTok community. So on there I am @TikTokTraumaDoc. I have a website, ChristineGibson.net. So Christine with a ch. And within a month, I am launching a new website called ModernTrauma.com and we're just designing it right now and it's this really beautiful community space. So we're going to have community conversations on there and then it's going to link to some of the TikToc’s. And if you purchase the book, The Modern Trauma Toolkit, there will be a hidden page of the website with some extra video content that I'm going to be recording over the next few months. So that whole website is going to be really, really just beautiful and emergent.
I feel like a lot of trauma stuff is really, really heavy and it doesn't have to be. Like if we come together as a community and we do this work together and we share together I actually think it can feel really validating like what we were talking about earlier. The there's two analogies that I use on the website, and one is the Kintsugi pottery. I don't know if you've heard this, but it's like the breaks…
Yes, like explain that. I think it's beautiful.
There is this Japanese term for like when a piece of ceramic has been broken, and they put it together with gold or silver resin. And the idea is that this piece is more valuable and more beautiful for having been broken and put back together. And I don't think that we're broken when we've been through trauma. I don't think we need to be fixed. I think our body is doing this adaptive thing. But it certainly feels like we are so when we start to put those pieces back together and we're like, oh my gosh, that's post traumatic growth. And what I always say to people is like, you are not defined by your traumas, but you can come out on the other side of it having done the work as this more evolved and emergent human being and it's amazing.
The other analogy is like the caterpillar emerging as a butterfly, like post traumatic growth is possible. and that's the message that I am trying to really share with people.
Okay, oh my gosh, you're right, we could have talked for so much longer and I am excited to have you have you come out and we'll make sure this website, or this episode comes out when your website is out so people can go to it and do all the things that you talked about. And thank you again for being here and listeners. You know how grateful I am for your time. So incredibly valuable. Thank you for spending that with me and my guests. And remember, it's our life's journey to make ourselves better humans and our life's responsibility to make the world a better place. Bye for now.
Hey everyone, thanks again for listening to the show. And just a quick reminder that if your company needs a speaker or a trainer, I might be the right person for you. I speak and do keynotes on confidence and resilience for mixed audiences as well as do trainings on the daring way, which is the methodology based on the research of Dr. Brené. Brown. So if you think it might be a good fit, hit me up at support@AndreaOwen.com or head over to my speaking page AndreaOwen.com/speaking.