A Technique For Preverbal Trauma Processing

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Length: 30 minutes


Linda Gantt, PhD, ATR-BC

Patients with chronic mental illness may have unremembered trauma during infancy such as surgical procedures or extreme pain. It is possible to process the traumatic event with a graphic narrative (a series of drawings) that includes elements of the Instinctual Trauma Response and serves as a template to bring closure to the preverbal trauma.

When there is no identified preverbal trauma (such as early operations or invasive procedures), the patient begins with an imagined scene of himself or herself as an infant in distress. Usually the image is of a baby in a crib. The therapist encourages the patient to view the scene from the perspective of a hidden observer (Hilgard, 1977) and construct a narrative that contains images of the infant’s startle reaction, the flight/fight impulse, the freeze, the sensations that will become body memories, the reaction of automatic obedience, and finally, the period of self-repair. The therapist suggests the essential plot of the story, which is the Instinctual Trauma Response (Tinnin, Bills, & Gantt, 2002), while the patient creates a script depicting the actors and actions responsible for the baby’s distress. The therapist pins the drawings to a large corkboard for display and re-presents the narrative in words to the patient.

We complete the preverbal trauma processing with an externalized dialogue between the present person and the inner infant that may still be struggling for survival. The external dialogue can be done with video recording or simply by writing. The patient invites the infant to participate and then speaks for the infant in return. As they take turns a surprising effect happens. The infant seems to find its voice and speaks its mind. It becomes possible to debate, negotiate, and to give and receive solace. The present day person can nurture and heal his or her own past self.

In this presentation we will show a case illustration by power point.

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