A newly released film opens up important discussion about sexual abuse and trauma recovery
The movie Spotlight is based on the true story of how a small team of investigative journalists from The Boston Globe exposed a decades-long conspiracy to cover up clergy child molestation. In 2001, the Globe’s “Spotlight Team” investigated abuse allegations in the Catholic Church. Their findings proved to be much more extensive than initially presumed, as countless victims surfaced with sexual abuse claims by an estimated 200 Boston Archdiocese priests. The public was stunned by the overwhelming and unthinkable sex crimes committed by clergymen, as well as the Church leaders who aided in covering them up. Released in November 2015, Spotlight tells the harrowing story about the Catholic Church scandal, and the six journalists who worked tirelessly to uncover the truth.
Spotlight provides insight into a subject that is often difficult to broach: sexual abuse. At Sierra Tucson, our Trauma Recovery Program offers a safe, supportive environment where residents can focus on healing from – and moving past – the pain. Camille Drachman, LCSW, SEP, trauma therapist and manager of Integrative Therapies at Sierra Tucson, sheds light on specific techniques that aid in the healing of traumatic experiences. For more information on Sierra Tucson’s Trauma Recovery Program, call our Admissions Coordinators today at (800) 842-4487.
Sierra Tucson (ST): What is the most effective treatment modality for victims of abuse?
Camille Drachman (CD): I don’t believe there is any one treatment modality that is most effective for abuse or for any presenting issue. Because of the unlimited variability of individual responsiveness and resiliency, efficacy of treatment will be based on individual needs. What I do believe is that often the physiology is ignored and overlooked as part of the healing process and, in turn, the healing is only partially accomplished. In trauma treatment—and in all treatment—if the physiology is not part of the process, full healing will not transpire.
ST: What is the biggest misconception as it relates to trauma recovery?
CD: From a physiological perspective, I believe the biggest misconception is that people believe they have moved on from what happened to them in the past. “The past is the past” is what I often hear right before I begin to educate them on how the body does not ‘move on’ and their current presenting issues are a direct result of their life experiences. As mental health is still a stigmatized topic in our society, people are often advised by loved ones and friends to “let it go” and get on with their lives. Unfortunately, individuals may believe they have resolved the past issues and “never even think about it,” and then physiology will betray the belief. Human physiology can withstand years and years of managing with dysregulation; however, every body has a point of no return. This is when the individual can no longer manage life, when daily functioning is impaired and when treatment is sought.
ST: Explain how Somatic Experiencing® Therapy® helps with trauma recovery?
CD: Somatic Experiencing® Therapy (SE) has been a part of the treatment program at Sierra Tucson for over 13 years. It is a physiologically based trauma treatment modality that addresses healing the nervous system. We now understand that trauma happens in the body, not in the event or memory of the event, but in how the physiology responds. In that way, one can say that everyone has trauma, though for many it has not reached the tipping point of unmanageability characteristic of those who seek treatment.
Nervous system dysregulation is often at the core of many issues, including substance abuse, chronic pain, eating disorders, and mood disorders. Somatic Experiencing® Therapy looks at the impact trauma has had on the nervous system. It understands that innate biological self-protective impulses are repressed during overwhelming events. The nervous system ‘freezes’ those self-protective impulses until it receives specific information that it is safe to let go. Establishing a sense of healthy, non-addictive pleasure in the nervous system signals it to unfreeze repressed arousal associated with the instinct of self-protection. SE is the process of unfreezing the nervous system, discharging repressed arousal, and building capacity for greater resiliency. The Somatic Experiencing® Therapy Trauma Institute describes SE as follows:
The Somatic Experiencing® Therapy Trauma Institute (SE) psychobiological trauma resolution is a potent method for resolving trauma symptoms and relieving chronic stress. It is the life’s work of Dr. Peter A. Levine, resulting from his multidisciplinary study of stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics, together with over 45 years of successful clinical application. The SE approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma.
The SE approach offers a framework to assess where a person is “stuck” in the fight, flight or freeze responses and provides clinical tools to resolve these fixated physiological states. It provides effective skills appropriate to a variety of healing professions including mental health, medicine, physical and occupational therapies, bodywork, addiction treatment, first response, education, and others.
ST: How is EMDR helpful in an individual’s journey of trauma recovery?
CD: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a proven and highly effective form of trauma treatment. EMDR has been a part of Sierra Tucson’s Trauma Recovery Program for many years. As described by the EMDR International Association:
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an evidence-based psychotherapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In addition, successful outcomes are well-documented in the literature for EMDR treatment of other psychiatric disorders, mental health problems, and somatic symptoms. The model on which EMDR is based, Adaptive Information Processing (AIP), suggests that much of psychopathology is due to the maladaptive encoding of and/or incomplete processing of traumatic or disturbing adverse life experiences. This impairs the client’s ability to integrate these experiences in an adaptive manner. The eight-phase, three-pronged process of EMDR facilitates the resumption of normal information processing and integration. This treatment approach, which targets past experience, current triggers, and future potential challenges, results in the alleviation of presenting symptoms, a decrease or elimination of distress from the disturbing memory, improved view of the self, relief from bodily disturbance, and resolution of present and future anticipated triggers.
ST: Once a person successfully completes treatment at Sierra Tucson, is he/she finished with the healing process?
CD: As clinicians working at Sierra Tucson, we view a resident’s time in treatment as the beginning of change – a foundation for the rest of the healing process to be built upon. Residents learn tools and skills, and often experience a shift in perspective that can propel them to further learning and healing. Personally, I believe that if we are willing, we get to continue our learning and healing for a lifetime. The joy of finding an ever more whole sense of self is something I work to impart on individuals that I see daily. It is both a pleasure and an honor to work with them at Sierra Tucson.
ST: If a parent suspects his/her child has endured abuse of any kind, what is the next step?
CD: This is a difficult place for any parent. I often see individuals in recovery from childhood trauma who never shared what had happened with anyone. The shame of the abuse will often perpetuate the ‘freeze’ response in the physiology and often the children are threatened by the perpetrator to remain silent. If a parent does suspect abuse of his/her child, the parent will be best served by finding a clinician who works specifically with children. This professional will then help guide the process of healing and help for the child and family. There are also organizations that work specifically with childhood sexual trauma and are excellent resources for further treatment. These organizations often work with law enforcement – the child comes to the attention of the organization through the legal system after the abuse has been reported.
About Camille Drachman, LMSW, SEP
Camille Drachman, LCSW, SEP, has over a decade of counseling experience in the field of addiction and trauma, as well as specialized trauma training. She has worked at Sierra Tucson for nearly five years and is currently the manager of Integrative Therapies, a trauma therapist, and a The Somatic Experiencing® Therapy Trauma Institute Practitioner (SEP).