behavioral pattern exhibited during routine activities
of daily living results from learned data which
is stored, or encoded, as cellular memory. Most
of those behavioral patterns are benign, in that
they do not contribute significantly to cellular
destruction (i.e., disease). Some of those patterns,
however, are expressed as significant reflections
of traumatically encoded cellular information.
In a condition such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,
it must be kept in mind that the "problem"
is an expression of traumatically encoded information
at the cellular level. In order for therapy to
have lasting effect, it is imperative that a primary
focus of intervention involves isolation and decoding
of the causative traumatic cellular memory pattern.
In 1904 the Russian
physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov won the Nobel
Prize for his research on the digestive process.
For the next 30 years, Pavlov devoted intense
study to brain function. He would later become
most well known for what he described as the "conditioned
reflex." Pavlov's research led him to conclude
that all acquired habits, and even higher mental
activity, depend on chains of conditioned reflexes.
The conditioned reflex works by association. Rather
than a simple stimulus-response mechanism, the
conditioned reflex is associated with memory.
For example, during the shock and stress of an
event that is perceived as a physical or emotional
threat, a special complex of hormonal messenger
molecules are released by the limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal
system. These substances encode all the external
and internal sensory impressions of the perceived
threat as cellular memory. This initial stimulus,
or memory, can later act as a catalyst for the
same reflex response that was initiated by the
perceived threat. The reflex or response can then
become conditioned to produce the same basic reaction
each time the memory of the initial threat is
activated, regardless of the stimulus. This process
is known as stimulus generalization, and it becomes
a key element in understanding, and treating,
victims of trauma.
For a typical
case history that can help us understand the process
of conditioned reflexes, and the importance of
decoding those reflex patterns at the cellular
level, consider the following example. A 42 year
old female presents with complaints of frequent
nightmares about being raped. She has recently
moved into a neighborhood where a serial rapist
has been active. Prior to moving to this area,
she had experienced occasional nightmares of a
sexual nature, but none so graphic as to lead
her to therapy. Her background reveals two failed
marriages and several unsuccessful relationships.
The reason given by the client for the poor relationships
and failed marriages is sexual incompatibility,
which she explains as being the result of her
fear of being harmed during the act of sexual
intercourse. Physically the client complains of
frequent urinary tract infections, low back pain,
and headaches. All of her physical symptoms manifest
in conjunction to interpersonal relationships,
and more recently, to the increasing nightmares.
The client's family
history is significant in that she remembers her
step-father as being very abusive. When probed
regarding her relationship with her step-father,
the client reveals that for years she has had
an increasing fear that she may have been sexually
abused by him. She states that this fear began
shortly after her first marriage, which was of
short duration due to her first husband's abusive
nature. Her second marriage, and intervening relationships
are also described as being abusive in nature,
and accompanied by increasing fear that her problems
may stem from her thoughts about being sexually
abused by her step-father.
In the scenario
described above, the initial stimulus can be understood
to be the client's fear regarding possible sexual
abuse by her step-father. Understanding that fear,
and subsequent symptoms, as the initial reflex
mechanism, we can see how that reflex could easily
become "conditioned" when subjected
to other stimuli that served to trigger the traumatic
memory patterns associated with the perception
of having been abused as a child. In this, and
many cases with similar histories, the trigger
which initiated the trauma response is a thought
about a perceived event. While the actual event
may or may not have occurred, the client's thoughts
about the events are the stimulus that ultimately
result in the physical/emotional reflex action
as expressed through the mind-body complex. The
reflex/response mechanism then becomes "conditioned"
via stimulus generalization. That is, any subsequent
event that is perceived by the mind-body complex
as being similar to the initial sensitizing event,
activates the same, or similar response through
the mind-body complex.
In dealing with
survivors of trauma, the "conditioned reflex"
takes on tremendous significance when we consider
that all of the information associated with the
trauma is encoded at the cellular level. While
it is true that each individual will respond to
trauma differently depending upon the degree to
which the traumatic situation is acknowledged
and reviewed within oneself, the fact remains
that all of the "memory" associated
with the trauma is encoded cellularly, and unless
decoded, that cellular memory can serve as the
nucleus for psychological and/or psychosomatic
illness via the "conditioned reflex."
The more frequently the memory is activated via
stimulus generalization, the greater is the effect
on the mind-body complex, and the more likely
the individual is to express the various imbalances
seen in Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.
With the expanding
view of mind-body therapies over the past decade
or two, a number of therapeutic tools have come
to light that appear to serve as methods for decoding,
or perceptually reframing, traumatically encoded
cellular memory patterns. Various types of meditation,
guided imagery, hypothesis and other mind-body
techniques are showing tremendous promise in helping
individuals create effective coping mechanisms
relative to perceived, or actual, traumatic memories.
By reestablishing the ability to cope with the
traumatic memories, the conditioned reflex mechanisms
apparently become decoded at the cellular level
thus discharging the stimulus generalization effect
on cellular function. How this actually occurs
is not completely understood, but it is theorized
that reviewing the various circumstances of a
traumatic event during hypnosis, meditation etc.
may reactivate the stress-released hormonal substances
that originally encoded that event at the cellular
level. The cellular memory is then brought into
contact with normal cognitive function thus allowing
the traumatic memory to be therapeutically reframed.
While our understanding
of the mind-body complex may be in its infancy
from a scientific perspective, it is becoming
increasingly clear that the neurochemistry of
emotion is a key factor that must be considered
if any therapeutic intervention is to have lasting
effect. All memory is encoded at the cellular
level. Any mind-body procedure that beneficially
alters destructive cellular memory patterns should
be carefully evaluated as to its value in management
of Post Traumatic Stress Disorders and other psychosomatic
and/or psychological conditions.
by The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic