Differentiating Developmental and Shock Trauma

Most of what we learn in our masters and doctoral programs is related to assessing and treating pathology and family of origin issues, also known as developmental trauma. Most of us got very little if any real training on how to deal with shock trauma. Often it is not even differentiated. It is important to be aware of shock trauma and the different approach to treatment. I want to get you to think about the differences and how to recognize them.

To begin, one must have a working understanding of the two types of trauma.

Developmental trauma refers primarily to psychologically based issues that are the result of inadequate nurturing and guidance through critical developmental periods of childhood. Most of the clients we see in our practices have suffered some sort of developmental trauma. More and more clients can be identified as having shock trauma and our country’s awareness of this problem has increased since 9/11.

Shock trauma is the result of an isolated event or series of events experienced as potentially life-threatening that overwhelms our capacity to respond effectively. Until fairly recently, our understanding of trauma was limited to the experience of “shell- shocked” soldiers. Shock trauma can be intertwined with developmental trauma, particularly when the perpetrator is a primary caregiver.

Shock is a physiological/nervous system reaction to threat of life. We usually think of this as physical harm as in sexual assault or war. Shock also occurs in lesser forms of threat. Such events as surgery, witnessing a car accident or a spill on your bicycle can be forms of shock trauma. An important thing to understand about trauma is that people, especially children, can be overwhelmed by what we usually regard as common, everyday events. Over time, a series of so-called minor mishaps can have the same damaging effect on a person as major traumatic events such as war or rape.

No two people experience or manifest trauma in the same way, however we do know that trauma can best be accessed on a body level. The meaning is in the rhythm of the body, the “music” beneath the words and as clinicians we need to be able to somatically resonate with our client to attend to these shock trauma wounds. Bioenergetic analysts have been trained to be aware of the tension and form and flow and sound and warmth of the body. We are trained to pay attention and attend to the sensory motor language of our clients. We take a holistic approach of dealing with the cognitive and emotional components as well as how the trauma is manifest in the body. Our training helps us differentiate the difference between shock trauma and developmental trauma and the significantly different approaches that are necessary to healing. If you would like to learn more about our training program in Bioenergetic Analysis please contact Terri Martin at 619-518-1229.

Diana Guest, MFT, CBT is the current president of the IIBA, the past president of SCIBA, SCIBA faculty chair, member of Bioenergetics International faculty and is in private practice in Pacific Beach. She has experience working with Vietnam Vets, survivors of torture and sexual assault victims as well as other shock traumas. She can be reached at 858-336-3740.