Humans have suffered the aftereffects of trauma for as long as history has been recorded and certainly even longer. Ancient cuneiform tablets written by the Sumerian people describe sleep disturbances and extreme emotional anguish experienced by civilian and military people after wars fought thousands of years ago, says Daniel Mintie, co-author with Julie K. Staples of the book "Reclaiming Life after Trauma." Today, post-traumatic suffering impacts the lives of millions of people, including about 7 percent of the United States population.
A 2016 research study conducted in Albuquerque by Mintie and Staples, along with other colleagues, shows that symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can be effectively addressed through the use of cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga. The two-step approach addresses beliefs that were impacted by trauma and also resets the circuits of the mind and body.
In addition to their book and work with individual clients, Staples and Mintie will offer a retreat in Taos from October 24-26 at the Sagebrush Inn. Participation is limited to 20 people.
Changing belief systems
Staples and Mintie have more than 50 years of experience between them in addressing trauma. Mintie is a cognitive behavioral therapist, who works with people around the world to help them become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking, so that they see situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way. Staples has been teaching yoga for 23 years. She has a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology and is the research director for the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C. She has researched traumatized populations in Gaza and Kosovo.
According to the Mayo Clinic, cognitive behavioral therapy alone or in combination with other therapies can be a helpful tool in treating depression, PTSD and eating disorders. Mintie said that cognitive behavioral therapy gets to the heart of PTSD to help people heal.
"We know that two-thirds of combat vets and survivors of sexual assault do not develop PTSD," said Mintie. "These people don't change their basic beliefs about themselves, others or the world. They look back and see their experience as hard or sad; maybe they feel angry, but they are able to heal physically and emotionally and get on with their lives."
The one-third of trauma survivors impacted by PTSD begins to experience life in a different way. Mintie talked about an example in which a Vietnam vet lost men under his command during a battle. His new belief was that anyone who gets close to him is in danger. This belief was reinforced by his father who said, "Yes, some people are the kiss of death." This statement confirmed that relationships were off the table for the vet and led to personal and interpersonal suffering for decades.
"When this man came to see us, he brought a grocery bag full of pills. He could no longer remember what the pills were for and had gotten no relief, only side effects," said Mintie.
The work of cognitive behavioral therapy is to provide several tools for people to help them reset their belief system back to where they were before the trauma. In the cases of people who have never had a healthy set of beliefs, the work is to help them establish one. This approach has helped kids as young as 12 and those in their 80s.
Mintie shares this approach through individual work with patients, teaching other providers, as well as offering workshops and the book. He noted, "We wrote the book in order to share an approach that doesn't involve medicine; it is just working to reset self-defeating beliefs."
Physical components of trauma
PTSD has many physical impacts. The approach developed by Mintie and Staples incorporates kundalini yoga techniques that have been shown to help calm the brain and the body. "We can reset a belief system, but if the person is walking around with tense shoulders in a hypervigilant state, that sends the signal to the brain that all is not well," explained Mintie.
Working with colleagues, Staples has applied yoga techniques that addresses trauma. "When people experience trauma and develop PTSD, the section of the brain called the amygdala is overactive. Meditation has been shown to calm this part of the brain," explained Staples. Another part of the brain known as the hippocampus shrinks when traumatized. Studies have shown that meditation can help the hippocampus grow.
Stress can also impact the immune system causing more inflammation. Yoga helps balance stress hormones and moves the body toward relaxation. Research done by Mintie and Staples shows that using both cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga helps improve sleep, which is often disrupted by PTSD.
Hidden wisdom of symptoms
People who develop PTSD may adopt strategies that are effective at some level. One strategy is hypervigilance in which people are constantly scanning their environment to look for danger. This approach may be effective at keeping someone safe. It also confirms that the person is important, deserves protection and has resources to secure the perimeter of their environment. "The symptom also shows a wise part of a human being's heart expressing itself," said Mintie.
However, the constant stress of the fight or flight reaction can take its toll both mentally and physically. The resulting inflammation is associated with many health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
When people begin to truly understand the strategies that they've adopted, both their effectiveness and their cost, they can begin to make different choices. "When people see the hidden wisdom of suffering, oftentimes a light bulb goes on and they can begin to express their values in a different way," said Mintie.
This innovative approach is further explained in their book "Reclaiming Life after Trauma: Healing PTSD with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Yoga" (Healing Arts Press, June 2018.) The book is a bestseller on Amazon in the cognitive behavioral category and has received positive reviews. It is intended to help people heal on their own. It is laid out to be easy to follow and includes examples and real-life stories, along with practical interactive exercises. In addition, there are free videos on the website integrative-trauma-recovery.com that demonstrate all of the yoga techniques that are described in the book.
Another way to learn this two-step approach is to attend the Integrative Trauma Recovery Intensive Retreat on Oct. 24-26 at the Sagebrush Inn, located at 1508 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, Taos. Participants will learn about releasing distressing memories, along with flashbacks, feelings of numbness, worthlessness and despair. In leaving behind hypervigilance, physical tension and reactivity, people learn to increase their feelings of peace, joy and security and also how to regain restorative sleep.
Mintie and Staples live in Taos, where he practices as a cognitive behavioral therapist and she teachers kundalini yoga on Tuesday nights at 365 Well. They agreed, "We feel blessed to be part of this community full of world-class writers, healers and teachers. We've lived many places and given the choice, we choose to live here. Through our book and our work, we hope to assist people in healing. This is our dream: that when we are gone, people will continue to heal."