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understanding Trauma

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Last week I attended a talk given by Dr. Gabor Mate. I’ve read several of Dr. Mate’s books and even studied with him, so I am quite familiar with his work. Even so, I am always inspired by the way he is able to share ideas that I hold as truth, in such a clear and comprehensive manner. Two things from his talk especially resonated with me. One, that trauma is not the event but rather the wound that remains as a result of the event. This trauma we carry around inside us, can easily be triggered when we experience future events in our lives that mimic the original experience. For someone who has experienced sexual trauma a triggering event might simply be engaging in partnered sex.  For someone who experienced abandonment, it could be as simple as your partner leaving you alone for a weekend.  

The second piece of information that stood out was the way these, often untreated traumas can create havoc on our overall health and well-being.  Dr. Mate pointed out in his talk that for more than a hundred years science has understood the relationship between stress and trauma on the body, as it relates to our overall health.  In study after study there is clear evidence of how the effects of untreated trauma can affect our immune system, nervous system, digestion, and hormones. Every day in my clinic I see the effects of this: increased auto-immune diseases, cancer, digestive disorders, fatigue, exhaustion, anxiety, and depression. 

I am heartened that Gabor’s latest book – The Myth of Normal – is currently on many best sellers lists, yet dis-heartened when I see how little this knowledge is implemented in our healthcare system today.  We know the cure for what ails us – slowing down, working less, exercising, connecting with friends, spending more time in nature, counselling, bodywork, acupuncture. 

As much as I truly appreciate our free health care system it does little to address the needs of the traumatized person. In fact the system often creates more trauma through the structures of care that are currently provided – a shortage of family doctors, overworked health care providers, long wait times for care, and care that when it does come often lacks the care that a person really needs. Is this really the best that we can do given the knowledge we have about what is needed? 

For myself I like to imagine a shorter work week to allow more time for socializing and spending time in nature, free recreation centres, and allied healthcare like counselling, massage, naturopathy, and acupuncture that is free and wholly a part of our health system.  I believe that these alternative forms of care are ultimately far less costly than hospitals and specialists that end up treating the effects of all our untreated stress and trauma.  Let’s all envision a better way forward and work to create a health system that includes these important pieces of our healthcare.