Do you feel like the person you are on the outside is nothing like the person you are on the inside?
Everyone thinks you’ve got it all together.
But on the inside you struggle with difficult feelings. You’re often anxious. You don’t feel safe. You’ve got mysterious symptoms, like migraines or chronic pain.
Maybe you’ve even seen a mental health expert for your feelings and a medical doctor for your physical symptoms, but neither were able to help.
There’s one more place you should look…
In this week’s YBTV interview, we talk with trauma therapist Natalia Rachel about the role trauma can play in disrupting both physical and mental health.
You’ll learn why talk therapy doesn’t always make you feel better, how the self gets fragmented, and how you can feel safe inside your body again.
What You’ll Learn
Natalia Rachel is a trauma therapist at Soma Clinic in Singapore.
Patients come to her with complex health conditions that seem unexplainable or resistant to treatment.
They have autoimmune conditions. They have chronic pain conditions such as migraines or fibromyalgia. They have anxiety, depression.
And no one has ever asked them why.
“We don’t just wake up sick one day,” Natalia says. That’s why she always asks her patients, “What happened to you before to cause these [symptoms]?”
Being able to finally tell their story to someone who wants to listen—someone who actually cares—can feel like such a relief. Many of these patients have been on a years-long journey to find help for their complex constellation of symptoms.
“With the physical symptoms, there is a mental health experience. And with the mental health symptoms, there is a physical experience,” Natalia says. Her job is to help connect the two.
An underlying cause of both physical and mental health symptoms is trauma.
When life hits us with events or experiences that shake us to our core, our psychological response can alter us profoundly. It can trap emotions in our body, resulting in mysterious symptoms.
But past trauma isn’t the first place most medical doctors look.
Sometimes, Natalia’s patients feel angry that no one ever asked them what happened to them. How did their doctors miss the clues? Why didn’t they connect the dots?
Trauma therapy hasn’t been around for long.
One approach, Somatic Experiencing, was popularized by Peter Levine in his classic book Waking the Tiger.
The somatic approach integrates psychotherapy with touch therapy to help patients release the danger response and feel safer inside their bodies.
So, how does trauma therapy work?
The Effect of Trauma
To understand trauma recovery, you have to understand first how trauma affects the mind and body.
“When we experience trauma,” Natalia says, “what happens is that there are all these responses that are not safe enough for us to have.”
You may feel angry and want to shout angry words or act aggressively, but you can’t.
You may feel terrified, but have to hide your fears and put on a brave face.
You may feel sad and need reassurance, but feel unable to ask.
To survive, you “pack away all of these parts of [yourself], because it’s too dangerous to allow them to express,” Natalia says. “To many of us, that creates this split between how we interact with the world and how we feel inside.”
This is called fragmentation.
Some degree of fragmentation is normal. It happens to all of us.
“When it becomes a problem is when it’s affecting the way we live and breathe in our life,” Natalia explains.
The Trauma Recovery Process
Many people who’ve experienced trauma start out by seeing a psychotherapist or counselor.
“Talking is really important, and making sense [of what happened] is really important,” Natalia says, “but what I commonly see is people have done all this amazing work on themselves … but what hasn’t changed is the feeling.”
You finally understand why you feel the way you do, but that understanding isn’t enough to release the feeling.
“This is because a lot of our experience is non-verbal,” Natalia says. We experience what happens to us in our bodies first, before it reaches conscious awareness.
That’s where the somatic approach can help. It brings awareness into the body.
“In the face of trauma, our body gets locked into a danger response,” Natalia explains. To heal, the body needs to feel safe enough to come out of that danger response and express those reactions that were stuffed away.
“Part of the trauma recovery process is to make it safe enough to identify all of these suppressed parts of us,” Natalia says.
“These suppressed parts have emotions. They have things they never got to say. They have needs that were never met. And they have a requirement to express now, so that they can integrate.”
The other part of trauma recovery is feeling safe in your body and your relationships again.
Often, trauma changes the way you relate to other people and the world. As you work through your trauma, you become more aware of your patterns and your triggers, so that you can start to shift them and heal your relationships.
Life in Recovery
“It’s in daily life where the changes start to happen,” Natalia says.
She encourages her clients to practice self-care to support their healing.
After working with her, her clients feel less isolated and alone. It’s such a relief to know that there’s nothing “wrong” with them. It’s just fragmentation, and fragmentation can be healed.
Her clients find that they feel safer inside themselves. For some, even their body can feel very different.
Jump to Topics of Interest
2:00 What is trauma recovery?
5:22 How fragmentation affects everyday life
6:59 Why talking it out isn’t enough
10:17 How trauma can manifest in health conditions
12:03 The power of listening to a patient’s story
13:15 The process of treating trauma
15:52 How it feels after a treatment
17:44 Free 3-part series on Our Fragmented Selves
18:49 There’s nothing wrong with you
Natalia is the Director of Soma Clinic, an integrated health clinic based in Singapore. Natalia’s personal focus as a therapist is on the psycho-emotional element of health, neurophysiology of trauma, early attachment/development and relational patterns. Natalia also teaches short courses and speaks on the topic of recovery and our innate ability to change. She works with thought leaders and businesses using relational dynamics to address systemic disconnection and misalignment in complex relational corporate and social dynamics. Find out how you can work with Natalia.