Monday, August 25, 2014

Self-Defense Training for Survivors of Trauma

Researchers are learning that movement can be a more effective way of treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than traditional talk therapy since individuals who have PTSD may struggle to express themselves verbally. This is due to being “in a state of perpetual hyperarousal and hypervigilance (pg 294)”. This state often impacts the centers of the brain responsible for language. Therefore, being able to process their emotions and experiences with words becomes more difficult. Learning how to deal with stressful situations while staying present in the moment can help a person to take action if necessary.

Therapists are utilizing movement, such as yoga, drama, and self-defense training (SDT) in their treatment of people with PTSD. SDT utilizes role-play, exposing participants to threatening scenarios that allow them to develop ways to deal with the typical responses of fight, flight, or freeze in traumatic situations. SDT can support therapeutic interventions focused on improving coping skills and reducing shame and self-blame. IMPACT™ International developed a comprehensive curriculum, Impact™ Basics, that outlines training in personal safety and self-defense skills. In 1999, Rosenblum and Taska began working with Prepare, Inc, the New York City chapter of IMPACT™ International, to adapt the curriculum to be used with trauma survivors. The results of their work are reported in their article “Self-Defense Training as Clinical Intervention for Survivors of Trauma” in Violence Against Women Special Issue: Self-Defense Against Sexual Assault 2014 20: 293-308.
Rosenblum and Taska found that participants taking the adapted Impact™ Basics course were able to practice and master self-defense skills by watching demonstrations, learning how to perform physical tools by breaking down the necessary components of each skill, and then practicing those skills on padded instructors who were playing the role of assailant. Through realistic verbal and physical assault scenarios, “students achieve mastery of skills including environmental awareness and situation assessment, appropriate body language, modulation of tone of voice, choice of language to address assailants, and finally, full force physical techniques (pg 296).”

IMPACT instructors support and coach participants to deal and cope with increasingly difficult and emotional scenarios. This helps the participants to widen their individual “window of tolerance”. When this window of tolerance is expanded, participants are helped to reconnect and ground themselves in order to return to a less emotionally vulnerable place. By mastering the skills necessary to respond to stressful and potentially dangerous situations, participants experienced positive outcomes, including reductions in their PTSD symptoms as well as decreased feelings of shame, self-blame, anxiety, and fear Participants experienced increased feelings of empowerment, control, and assertiveness after completing self-defense training. Rosenblum and Taska’s preliminary data suggest that SDT is a supportive intervention in the treatment of trauma.

Naomi Love, Workshop Leader, IMPACT Chicago

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