Dealing With The Past – Part II: Psychological Factors

In the previous blog, I discussed how physical scars from an injury can perpetuate pain and dysfunction. In a parallel process, traumatic experiences can also cause psychological scars. If these scars are not properly managed, they can affect pain (physical as well as emotional) and our ability to function normally.

The good news is that, just as the tissues of the body can be remodeled to adapt to an injury, our minds can also be remodeled to adapt to trauma. Psychological professionals can help a person deal with past trauma through three general processes.

Reducing Emotional Chaos

Someone who has experienced trauma will be "on edge" since their memories of the event cause them to constantly be assessing for danger and preparing them to fight or escape. Therefore, a key element of psychological therapy is to calm this heightened emotional state. The first step is to find a peaceful, safe place within the mind. This safe place can then be used as a home base from which the person can gradually and safely explore their traumatic memories. The purpose is not to wipe out the memories but to enable the resumption of a normal life...even with the memories.

Telling Your Story

Traumatic memories are often fragmented so that a person can only recall bits and pieces of what happened rather than the entire story. The second key component of therapy assists the person with filling the gaps in their memories. There are different therapeutic approaches that a psychological professional can use to help a person achieve this. Once the complete story is known, the person then has more control over how the story is told, giving them more power over their past.

Giving Meaning to Trauma

When something bad happens for no apparent reason, it can seriously damage our sense of hope and negatively affect our outlook on life. The third key component of therapy helps to put traumatic events into the larger context of life and gives meaning to it. Once a person can give a reason for why an event happened, they can then accept it as part of their life story and move forward.

Dr. Trung Ngo founded Novah Healthcare in 2017, an interdisciplinary clinic that specializes in the conservative management of acute and chronic pain. His Novah clinic will continue the work he did from 2011 to 2017 at Mount Sinai Hospital, where he led an interdisciplinary team in assessing and treating complex, chronic, non-cancer pain. His Mount Sinai team helped patients decrease their pain, improve their daily and vocational functioning and reduce or eliminate their intake of pain medications (including opioids). Dr. Ngo graduated from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College and subsequently pursued a residency program at Hamilton General Hospital in which he furthered his training in orthopaedics and pain management.

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