Mindfulness has been shown by researchers to strengthen body awareness, boost attention and increase the ability to regular emotions. Mindfulness teachers recommend it to us as a healthy way to experience the world and ourselves.
At the same time, prevalence rates for trauma are high. As pointed out by David Treleaven, Ph.D. in his excellent book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness, an estimated 90 percent of the population are exposed to a traumatic event at some time in their lives. Eight to twenty percent of these people will develop a posttraumatic stress disorder. This is a book to raise the awareness and skill level of any teacher of mindfulness or any therapist recommending mindfulness as a technique to someone they are treating for trauma.
Many trauma treatment books focus on helping the individual overcome their trauma. Nothing wrong with that. However, Dr. Treleaven situates this treatment in a holistic approach. He says we must also factor in systems that extend beyond the individual. It is imperative for the therapist treating trauma to understand how these systems function and how they relate to trauma. He offers the example of looking at one bar which is in front of a bird. To a casual observer, the bird could just fly around the bar. However, if you look at all of the bars around the bird, you see that it is in a cage.
The two-edged sword of mindfulness
Mindfulness helps us learn how to pay purposeful attention, to be in the present moment and to be nonjudgmental toward what we are observing. We can be observant of external stimuli and also what is going on inside of us.
However, like someone practicing mindfulness, particularly during meditation, survivors often find it difficult to avoid attending excessively to reminders of their trauma. This typically takes the survivor out of their zone of tolerance or zone of optimal arousal. Instead of feeling safe during meditation, the person feels threatened by what they are experiencing inside and their emotional state worsens rather than improves.
Dr. Treleaven devotes a chapter to each of his five principles of trauma-sensitive mindfulness. He offers suggestions relevant to these principles. Dr. Treleaven offers suggestions about how to help the client stay within their zone of tolerance, to support their stability, to help the client maintain a safe sense of embodiment and utilize a system of support. He encourages the reader to become more aware of the social context of the relationship. We should also consider the likelihood of oppression being part of the context of the social identity of the client as well as the trauma they have experienced. He offers suggestions to become part of the solution to achieve more social equality and fairness.
It might come across to you as a meditation teacher or a therapist who treats trauma survivors that I think that you would greatly benefit from reading and learning from this book. If so, then I hope to have helped Dr. Treleaven spread his wise and kind thoughts to those who can then better help trauma survivors achieve a more satisfying life.