INDEPENDENT STUDY FINAL PAPER 1

Independent Study Final Paper
Dealing With Trauma Through Mindfulness
Sundy Preston
University of Washington
8/26/13

INDEPENDENT STUDY FINAL PAPER 2



Abstract
Mindfulness practice can be cultivated through exercises such as meditation, or through being
mindful of present moment experiences. It allows practitioners suffering from various traumas to
heal by bringing peace, awareness and the ability to process emotions through teaching them to
observe themselves reacting to various stimuli in and then to train themselves to react in a calm,
rational manner.

INDEPENDENT STUDY FINAL PAPER 3



In this paper I will be discussing ways of dealing with trauma through mindfulness.
Trauma can be defined as a serious injury or shock to the body, resulting from violence or an
accident. It could also be an emotional wound or shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to
the psychological development of a person or it could come from an event or situation that
causes great distress and disruption (American Heritage Dictionary, 2009). When I refer to
mindfulness, I am referring to a moment to moment awareness. This can be cultivated through
practices such as meditation, or through being mindful of present moment experiences.
Mindfulness practices can be grouped in two categories: formal and informal. Formal
mindfulness refers to mindful meditation which allows one to experience mindfulness at its
deepest level. It also allows practitioners to study and observe the effects mindfulness has on
one’s mind and behaviors. Informal mindfulness is an exercise that can be used in everyday life
to gain present moment awareness. Mindfulness practice helps people suffering from various
traumas by bringing peace, awareness and the ability to process emotions. Mindfulness teaches
one to observe oneself reacting to various stimuli in order to practice doing so in a calm, rational
manner.
Being mindful in a therapeutic way includes being non-judgmental of one’s present
thoughts and feelings. As streams of internal and external stimuli arise, mindfulness happens as
one observes one’s own reactions with acceptance. The following are two examples of
mindfulness exercises that help describe the details of each practice—formal and informal—
taken from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy by Germer, Siegel, & Fulton.


INDEPENDENT STUDY FINAL PAPER 4



Exercise 1 (formal)
1. Assume a comfortable posture laying on your back or sitting; keep the spine straight and let
your shoulders drop.
2. Close your eyes, if it feels comfortable.
3. Bring your attention to your belly, feeling it rise or expand gently on the in-breath and fall or
recede on the out-breath.
4. Keep the focus on your breathing, “being with” each in-breath for its full duration and with
each out-breath for its full duration, as if you were riding the waves of your own breathing.
5. Every time you notice that your mind has wandered off the breath, notice what it was that
took you away and then gently bring your attention back to your belly and the feeling of the
breath coming in and out.
6. If your mind wanders away from your breath a thousand times, then your “job” is simply to
bring it back to the breath every time, no matter what preoccupies it.
7. Practice this exercise for 15 minutes at a convenient time every day, whether you feel like it
or not, for one week, and see how it feels to incorporate a disciplined meditation practice into
your life. Be aware of how it feels to spend some time each day just being with your breath,
without having to do anything.
Exercise 2 (informal)
1. Tune into your breathing at different times during the day, feeling the belly go through one or
two risings and fallings.
2. Become aware of your thoughts and feelings at these moments, just observing them without
judging them or yourself.
INDEPENDENT STUDY FINAL PAPER 5



3. At the same time, be aware of any changes in the way you are seeing things and feeling about
yourself.
In Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, mindfulness is discussed in depth, including the
history, present scientific research findings, religious and spiritual practices, and examples of
how to apply mindfulness. I want to point out the section about brain science and the brain, as
well as the various therapies the authors introduce and how the studies they have done on people
with PTSD have had positive effects. Brain science has discovered how mindfulness may
change brain function. The authors studied subjects that were trained to meditate for an eight-
week period and then observed their brain function when faced with an emotional challenge. The
findings were that the brain remained in a state of rest when faced with the emotional challenge.
Further research is being done and demonstrates that we can change the brain itself through
mindfulness practice creating the ability to have better control over our behaviors.
Treatment programs that practitioners use to help people who have experienced trauma or
suffer from PTSD are listed below. Practitioners who use these techniques to teach mindfulness
and have reported positive results after using them.
 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or MBSR (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). This method
includes formal yoga and meditation practice and informal daily mindfulness practice.
 Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy or MBCT (Segal, Williams, 2002). This
teaches awareness of breath and breathing techniques along with awareness of thoughts
and recognizing that thoughts are not facts.
INDEPENDENT STUDY FINAL PAPER 6



 Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT (Linehan, 1993). These are core skills
taught in group settings that focus on interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation and
distress tolerance.
 Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT (Hayes, Strosahl, 1999-2005).
There are over 100 ACT teaching metaphors to help practitioners individualize
mindfulness practices.
According to Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, some people need to distance themselves
from traumatic events; critical stress debriefing like mindfulness practice can increase suffering
for these individuals (Germer, Siegel, & Fulton, p.41). Mindfulness is cultivated through the
practice of meditation, or through the process of being aware of present moment experiences,
which can include past traumatic memories if a person is suffering from post-traumatic stress
(PTS. Some people need time and space before they are ready to remember the trauma.
As I read about dealing with trauma through mindfulness, I remembered the most recent
traumatic event I survived: a divorce after being married for ten years and having two children.
The divorce process was a whirlwind that caused me to experience memory loss, depression, and
anxiety on what seemed like a daily basis. After the initial separation from my husband, it took
me two years before I was able to reflect on the divorce itself. During those two years I was not
able to be mindful about the process I was going through because it caused me so much anxiety;
I preferred participating in social events and entertainment. Now three and a half years later, I
can spend time meditating in depth about the traumatic experience and feel calm as I come to a
deeper understanding of what happened. I am also able to feel compassion toward my ex-
husband and support his new life. In my search for a counselor I went one for a month and she
tried to do some mindfulness with me, but I was in the whirlwind of trauma of my divorce and
INDEPENDENT STUDY FINAL PAPER 7



she did not have had much success practicing mindfulness with me; I ended up finding a
different counselor.
When dealing with psychological resilience to trauma like violence or abuse, past
influences on the emotional brain must be discharged. This process should involve the body
because cognition is not always connected to the emotional brain. This is accomplished by the
second component in therapy, the psychological component. When one faces fear, they need to
back up their disconnection using both physiological components and mindfulness. The
physiological component helped resolve the strong connection between past experiences and
sympathetic responses. The mindfulness component teaches letting go of negative thoughts by
observing them and not reacting to the negative feelings that come (Thompson, Arnkoff, &
Glass, 2011).
First responders such as police officers and fire fighters commonly experience high levels
of trauma-related stress because of witnessing destruction to physical property, violence, injury
or death. Interventions to help these first responders have been implemented, including exposure
therapy, brief eclectic therapy, movement desensitization, and reprocessing. The common thread
between each of these therapies is mindfulness and being with the present moment: being aware,
instead of avoiding it. Mindfulness can break the cycle of trauma-related avoidance. Post
traumatic growth or (PTG) is a positive outcome of trauma. It manifests in things like greater
appreciation for life, increased sense of personal strengths and more meaningful interpersonal
relationships. PTG develops because prior basic assumptions cannot accommodate the new
reality presented by the traumatic experience. People may experience such a shock from a
traumatic experience that their entire perspective about life changes. In contrast, because
INDEPENDENT STUDY FINAL PAPER 8



mindfulness focuses on accepting experiences as they are, this may interfere with the
development of PTG. To help sufferers develop PTG, this article recommends that practitioners
implement an understanding of how the traumatic experience may have led to a broader
connection with forces larger than oneself, possibly religious or spiritual forces. (Chopko, B. A.,
& Schwartz, R. C. 2009)
I have seen this first-hand with a personal friend who is a police officer for Washington
State Patrol. He gives his family top priority over everything else, and has such a strong
appreciation for the people he cares about that he will go out of his way to do the smallest things
for them. I have not seen this in-depth appreciation in anyone else I have ever met. I think this
would be considered PTG.
Mode deactivation therapy (MDT), which is discussed in “A Literature Review and
Analysis of Mode Deactivation Therapy”, has been shown to be more effective than other
approaches such as CBT, DBT, and SST. This article showed an in-depth study of the
effectiveness of MDT when working with adolescent youth that have violent, sexual, and
suicidal behaviors. The results show that it is the most effective method when dealing with these
years. This evidence-based approach can be successful for multiple levels of care both as
preventative and as interceptive therapy (Apsche, J. A. 2010).
Social workers are subject to secondary trauma that can affect their work and home life if
they do not have tools available to process and integrate these traumas. Various mindfulness
training are available to practitioners. This training increases present moment awareness which
helps people to get through their day-to-day responsibilities while dealing with a trauma. (Kabat-
Zinn, 1990).
INDEPENDENT STUDY FINAL PAPER 9



Mindfulness fosters awareness of the present moment emotions; when we are mindful,
we can deal with our feelings in the moment, which is better for us then hiding or avoiding it.
Suppressing emotions is a false healing. Through mindfulness practice, psychological flexibility
is developed. When animals experience trauma, their body shakes in the form of tremors that
have been found to reduce the effects of PTSD. There is a survival advantage to experiencing
tremors after trauma. After these tremors were discovered in animals, releasing exercises have
been designed to engage the primal traumatic releasing mechanism in humans mimicking what
animals naturally experience. This is called TRE technique, and can be used for groups of
people who do not have access to healthcare, because it is something they can do themselves
after learning the technique. Mindfulness is a key component in TRE.
I found the information about the animals experiencing tremors fascinating and so
instinctual. I would like to learn more about the TRE technique and read case studies of people
that have used it successfully. This makes me think of the times I have experienced first or
second hand trauma, and my body’s natural response was to lay down and cry intensely, which
caused my body to move and heave naturally because of the strong emotions.
With the use of mindfulness in trauma counseling there have been some impressive
outcomes for people experiencing trauma. These successful outcomes include a decrease in:
anxiety, depression, and stress; as well as an increase in compassion for self and others.
Using mindfulness in trauma counseling creates a bodily awareness of the trauma, as if the
trauma itself were an object inside the body. This awareness helps trauma survivors build
strength in the ability to differentiate between the traumatic events and what is happening now.
They increase their sense of control and are able to be more present in their daily life. Counselors
need to be aware that any mindfulness practice they use should be culturally congruent with the
INDEPENDENT STUDY FINAL PAPER 10



client’s worldview and drawing upon the client’s existing strengths. Mindfulness practice can
play a dual role: meeting both the practitioner’s self-care needs, and the client’s needs to
overcome trauma and daily stress. Practitioners often experience exhaustion and sometimes
second hand trauma. When a practitioner teaches mindfulness to their clients and they practice it
together with them, the practitioner then has a chance to care for any possible second-hand
trauma or burnout they might experience while dealing with the client’s trauma.
Spirituality and science were put together to demonstrate how Buddhist principles can go
with the idea of clinical therapy. This process is based in neuropsychology and has the potential
of remodeling the mind through integration and compassion. The brain’s plasticity brings insight
to the possibilities of reshaping our brain through the relationships in our neurobiology. There
are a variety of experiential instructions, as well as tools and practices for meditating, for anyone
interested in transformation and the development of inner compassion (Kornfield, J.PhD &
Siegel, D.J.MD 2010).

I find neurobiology fascinating; I want to continue to discover the many dimensions of
my own brain through my own practice of mindfulness meditation mostly in a formal meditation
way but also on a daily informal awareness practice.
When a person feels like they have a choices, they feel more in control of their
experiences and are able to gain a sense of freedom of expression and creativity. Integrating
meditation into traditional psychotherapy helps people suffering with psychological problems, as
well as with personal and professional problems like depression, anger, and addiction, weight
management, anxiety, burnout, and stress. Seeing feelings and problems as an object that you
are separate from and during the meditation process, objectifies the problem and allows the
INDEPENDENT STUDY FINAL PAPER 11



person to have a new perspective where they feel less threatened and more in control of their
response because the problem becomes a non-threatening object. (Kornfield, J.PhD & Siegel,
D.J.MD, 2010).

I want to help people that have been through trauma and experienced anxiety, by
practicing mindfulness with them daily in a collaborative way that allows them to experience
mindfulness and the benefits will be clear to them. I want to help white people gain an
understanding of the historical traumas many non-white people have been through in hopes of
enlightening them about their privileges and open their hearts to share and feel and digest what is
hiding under the structure of our society. I want to help women see the oppression-supported
environment they have been raised in, so that they can recognize it and evaluate their choices
from that person in environment perspective.
Our country is founded upon power, dominance, and categorizations which have resulted
in pain, suffering, and massive amounts of trauma. Just like Michael Brown teaches in The
Bridge, we have to eat the man that is before us and digest it in order to incorporate it into who
we are. The more we reject what is presented to us, the more drama and pain and suffering we
generate. Is it possible to gain awareness of our feelings about the cognitive dissonance
surrounding the terrible injustice that has been done to minorities in our country? Is it then also
possible to digest those feelings and incorporate them into our beings in accepting forgiving,
non-resisting way? What are the possibilities for those being oppressed when they are recognized
and acknowledged for their suffering? Could they possibly heal and start to shine? Could they be
brighter than we ever imagined? Could we intertwine in harmony together creating an amazing
place to coexist that blows are mines and opens our hearts?
INDEPENDENT STUDY FINAL PAPER 12



The resistance to recognize cognitive dissonance is so strong—and that resistance is the same
thing as being in denial or not being willing to look at one’s actions because one is not willing to
feel. It is painful for people to look at the messages they have made, the way their actions have
harmed others but if they do not acknowledge those mistakes, it is making the wrongs they did
even worse. It causes the individuals they have harmed to have to prove that they have been hurt,
rather than beginning to heal from the pain. Until the wrong is acknowledged, that healing
cannot begin. Mindfulness practice offers healing and hope by helping those who suffer from
various traumas acknowledge their pain and then move forward to find peace, awareness and the
ability to process emotions.