Psychotherapist Teaches How to Manage Trauma After Terror Attacks

May 18, 2016

International psychotherapist, founder and president of The Trauma Institute.
Credit The Trauma Institute

Places like New York, Brussels, London and the Middle East have endured destruction from terror and violent attacks. The same can be said about our very own community in San Bernardino. Often times, there’s a struggle to return to normal life, when people go through an attack, but maybe with healing they can and will return to living their lives without fear. That’s what psychotherapist, president and founder of the International Healing Institute in Los Angeles tackles in her series Beyond the Trauma Vortex Into the Healing Vortex. It’s a healing process that deals with various PTSD symptoms, anxiety and most importantly trauma after a violent experience.

“We can be very strong and very resilient. We can cope, we can adjust, we can digest, but then if things are coming at us one after another after another, we may not have enough time and boom, we fall into what we call the Trauma Vortex.”

The Trauma Vortex is something that Ross and her team try to fix through what they call The Healing Vortex, which is something all humans are capable of accessing. The way we access it is through one of our main body systems.

“We all have the same nervous system. Whether you’re white or yellow or black or brown or whatever you want to be; whatever language you speak, the nervous system speaks the same language all over the world.”

While San Bernardino suffered only a fraction of what countries in the Middle East go through on a daily basis, Ross explains it’s more important to know how similar these experiences can be and that everyone goes through this painful process.

“Once we connect through that it’s much easier to see the other person as another human being despite their destructive actions.”

The process of starting the Healing Vortex in order to combat the Trauma Vortex is not always easy, but it is essential to keeping the body healthy and warding off different kinds of stress, tension and anxiety that affects everyday life. Ross says the most important thing about the Healing Vortex is that people acknowledge their pain and don’t try to forget it ever happened.

“Denial does not work.  If we fight against it, if we try to keep it away from us it gains much more power over us. Then we have all kinds of different dysfunctions that happens in terms of just hiding from what we have to face.”

Those dysfunctions could actually affect the body in respiratory problems, high blood pressure and even cause digestive and stomach issues. While stress is expected to impact a person’s health, it’s also important to realize that residual stress can stay in the body and build up for decades.

This is because the adrenaline caused from say constant violence, explosions, deaths and danger isn’t released or discharged. The Trauma Institute develop healthy ways to get rid of the built up tension.

How to deal with traumatic stress.
Credit The Trauma Institute

“Let’s say you have a lump in the throat, a constriction in the chest or tension in the neck. Then you just chose one of them and you focus on it. This is where the miracle is, the self-regulatory mechanism that we have. Once we focus on one constricted sensation it’ll move through our system and go into extinction just by pure mindfulness and that’s something called the discharge process.”

Ross, who works primarily in Israeli and Palestine has been training students for years, but being in the middle of a regional conflict is not always the safest place to teach people how to properly discharge. This is why keeping a level head is incredibly important.

“Several times I had to interrupt my training because there were red alerts about missiles falling. I had to take my students to the shelters and sometimes the shelters were just a garage or a staircase to wait for the alerts to pass. So this is a constant ongoing pressure that’s there and people have to learn to how live with this because otherwise they totally deregulate and become much more dysfunctional.”

Evidently, these coping mechanisms aren’t just for the middle east, but can be used universally and within our own neighborhoods. Things like police brutality, gang violence, the Mexican-American border, PTSD in veterans and even the December 2nd terror attack can result in multiple instances of trauma.  

“We all have our weakness moments. Anything can happen to anybody, but the healing vortex can become contagious too when enough people rub against it and develop it and work with it and believe in it. That’s the biggest hope that we have in humanity today is that we know that something good is emerging and is happening despite all the bad."

Gina Ross is an international psychotherapist, president and founder of The International Trauma Institute in Los Angeles.