Working with Hell Incarnate - Carolyn Cowan

Carolyn Cowan runs a therapy practice specialized in trauma, addictions, and psychosexual issues.

“Your sympathetic nervous system is a bitch,” said Carolyn in her salon. “When you have a history of trauma, you are constantly falling into hell, and trying to somehow claw your way out.” 

To kick things off, she guided the audience in a breathing exercise that involved lifting the arms, taking deep breaths, and twisting to the left and right. “We just went into the part of our brain that regulate safety,” she explained afterward. “And what we told that part of the brain was, it’s OK.”

Trauma, believes Carolyn, can come from many places. As a fetus in a mother’s womb, a girl, by six weeks, has all the eggs she will have in her lifetime. “So those eggs are inside you, inside your mother.” In this way, Carolyn explained, there are residual effects from before we are even conceived. This is what she describes as “generational trauma.” There is also “gestational trauma.” “When a pregnant mother is stressed, her child is washed in stress hormones. And that can affect how your brain forms.” Finally, there is “experienced trauma”; what happens to you.

And what all trauma does is create a fractured sense of self. Carolyn prompted the audience members to ask themselves: How old do you feel when you’re anxious? How old do you feel when you’re angry? How old do you feel when you’re having sex? 

Embodied Recovery from Trauma - Ralf Marzen

Ralph Marzen is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Embodied Trauma Healing. In his salon, he described trauma as, “too much, too fast, too soon,” and this, he suggests, leads to loss of connection (to self, other life, ‘God’).

He showed the room videos of wildlife, including one of a polar bear after being shot from a distance by a tranquilizer gun. Initially wracked by convulsions, the bear eventually came to a state of rest, punctuated by deep breaths. This, Ralph explains, is an example of fight/flight energy being discharged. Like the polar bear, he posits that people can shake off the trauma energy, rather than carry it forward with them. In his own practice, he often helps people connect with the instinctive responses that we generally put a lid on. 

Trauma Beyond Adverse Childhood Experiences - Dr. Karen Treisman

Dr. Karen Treisman is a Highly Specialized Clinical Psychologist who has worked in both the National Health Service as well as abroad, in Africa and Asia. Her talk addressed questions such as: How can we be in our thinking rather than survival brains? How do we avoid becoming disassociated and numb? How can we do that self-care instead of self-sacrifice? How do we work together rather than in isolation?

The answer? Karen offered up one of her favorite quotes: “When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” Karen encouraged the audience to shift away from the question of, “What is wrong with you,” and towards a curiosity around, “What happened?”

Acknowledging the importance of adverse childhood experiences, she noted the impact of adverse community, cultural, and organizational experiences. As an example, she described the way that institutional trauma can occur through the foster care system. Another example is bullying. And where does the most amount of bullying occurs? In the school staffroom. Organizations can perpetuate trauma. In the same way that people have ghosts of the past, so can organizations.

Trauma is an epidemic. It’s a public issue. It’s a crisis,” said Karen.