Dr Melanie Salmon graduated at Wits University in Medicine and in 1977 emigrated to
the UK. Spent her entire adult life there working as a GP. Also trained in Gestalt Psychotherapy, doing both GP and counseling work in parallel.
In 1998 returned to Johannesburg with her family, hoping at last to be able to give
something back. Worked for two years in a city casualty department in Gauteng and despite re-training as a traumatologist, felt quite overwhelmed by the nature and the amount of trauma she saw from crime-related violence. During this time she had the opportunity to visit with the Kalahari Bushmen. She was deeply moved by their suffering. She returned with her husband to the UK and for 9 years trained in a whole range of new modalities. She discovered a remarkable way to work with trauma, developed by Dr David
Berceli during his 15 years spent in war torn African and Middle East countries. She trained
with him and had the opportunity to try this new method out on her patients in the UK. It was successful beyond expectations. She is now a qualified TRE trainer.
She recognized that this way of working would be ideal for the stress and trauma in South
Africa. Having begun her work with individuals and groups in 3 South African Provinces
since returning, She feel certain that we are on the way to providing a unique, inexpensive and widely applicable method of healing for many people in this country.
She brought Dr Berceli to South Africa in April 2010 to work with as many people as possible to heal their own trauma and pass this healing method on to others.
The History Of Trauma Recovery
A century ago during the first world war we heard about people suffering from “shell
shock.” Unfortunately this was regarded by the medical profession as “psychological” and
therefore likely to be due to malingering. 150 years of Cartesian mind/body dualism in
medicine relegated emotional sentient experiences to a separate compartment, less
worthy of our attention and study.
The ravages of Vietnam and its consistent aftermath forced us in the latter part of the 20th
century to take a more serious look at trauma and the effects on the person as a whole.
However PTSD, previously the core diagnosis of a set of symptoms, did not gain
mainstream recognition until fairly recently. The latest DSM-1V (Medical Manual of
Statistics), still attributes the clinical symptom complex from trauma to horrific extremes of human experience such as war and natural disasters. This definition of trauma is now
antiquated and a growing body of people are seeing this as the tip of the iceberg when it
comes to the trauma spectrum.
Robert Scaer MD in his work as clinical Neurologist over 3 decades in trauma
rehabilitation, now defines trauma as a continuum of variably negative life events occurring over the lifespan. Scaer argues that “the cumulative experiences of lifeʼs ‘little traumas’ actually shape virtually every aspect of our existence…personality, choice of mate, profession, clothes, appetite, social behaviours, posture and most specifically our state of physical and mental health and disease.”
The ACE study in the USA, over 20 years, revealed a straight line graph correlation
between cumulative adverse minor experiences in childhood and major illnesses such as
diabetes, heart disease, mental illnesses and early death.
New Definition of Trauma
“A shocking or stressful experience that occurs in a state of helplessness”.
HELPLESSNESS (the absence of control), defines trauma. In 1995 Robert Scaer came across the work of Peter Levine who was treating his PTSD patients with a body-orientated therapy he called SE (somatic experiencing.) Levine postulated that PTSD was caused by an uncompleted FREEZE response by the victim of a serious threat to life. During the course of his body-mind work with clients, Levine noticed that when they trembled or discharged energy, they got better. Scaer referred many intractable cases of PTSD to Levine and they got better. Further investigation led Scaer to equate WHIPLASH SYNDROME (of which he had treated over 10,000), to the conditioned behavioral response to the TRAUMA of the ACCIDENT (compared with Derby drivers who never got whiplash).
Scaer and others in neurobiology and neuroscience have done a great amount of research
into the physiology of the trauma response. Thanks to FMRI imaging of the brain it is now understood that the brain is constantly rewiring itself according to the messages received from the body. There is an interactive dance in the entire system between body and brain (mind) that is now widely accepted as the BODY/MIND/BRAIN continuum.
Trauma management can no longer be relegated to one or other compartment.
Unless we regard humans, as we do other animal species, as being one organism, we
are unable to understand the profound physiological changes that occur when a patient is
traumatised. We also cannot provide the necessary integrated healing that is dependent
on a mind-body approach and that is now being recognised as the only true healing
possible from trauma.
DAVID BERCELI and TRE
Dr Berceli, a former monk, was stationed in the war torn areas of the Middle East and Africa for 15 years. He was also qualified as a social worker, psychologist and massage
therapist. These years of experience gave him the insight, after seeing whole populations that were traumatized, how the human organism restructured itself to survive trauma. He
noticed patterns in the body related to certain muscle groups. These are the flexor muscles and in particular the psoas muscle, which are responsible for pulling the body forward
instinctively into a fetal position when a threat such as a gun shot, goes off. This protective mechanism is instinctual and in all humans. He also began to associate the trembling that
occurred in children, but NOT IN ADULTS, as a discharge of the tension of the event.
He returned to the USA and began to research this tremoring mechanism. Much research
has been done in animals, but apart from the work of Peter Levine, not much had been
done at that time in humans.
Dr Berceli has continued with his work all over the globe as CEO of TRAUMA
RECOVERY & PREVENTION SERVICES. He has provided specialized assistance to the
the USA military returning from Iraq and currently a longitudinal study with 5000 military
personnel is underway. He works with national and international relief agencies and
government and non-government organizations whose staff are living and working in
Tremoring is an inbuilt mechanism designed to release the huge energetic charge that
builds up in the body and nervous system during the instinctual fight or flight or freeze
response to trauma. These NEUROGENIC TREMORS are elicited in the psoas muscle, the bodyʼs centre of gravity and spreads outwards from there up the back and down the
legs and arms. If not suppressed or interrupted it will continue until the entire chemical/hormonal/muscular build-up has been discharged. This returns the entire organism to normal or homeostasis. Studies on animals in the wild demonstrate that they do not have PTSD as a result of effectively discharging the traumatic experience . Animals in captivity do not do this and their health and life span is greatly impaired as a result.What has happened in humans? Over centuries of acculturation we have frozen the organic inbuilt tremoring mechanism because we have defined SHAKING as a WEAKNESS or PATHOLOGICAL. To this day in the DSM-1V, shaking as a symptom is described as a neurotic feature in conditions such as panic disorder, anxiety syndromes and so on. We are, in effect, in a cultural cage.
By the age of 7 we have given up the tremoring mechanism, designed to protect us from
long term damage created by trauma. Berceli spent 5 years developing a set of exercises which elicit this tremor. Because tremoring is instinctual, it is mediated through the primitive BRAINSTEM, This means the tremoring response will kick in automatically, when certain muscles groups have been stretched and mildly stressed. These muscle groups are the flexors of the lower back and thighs that pull one forwards in a protective movement. When these muscles are worked, then tremoring kicks in all by itself. The person experiences this in the lying down position and tremors may continue organically for up to half an hour. They are usually good to experience and a relief to most people. If any unpleasant memories come up the exercise is easily terminated without any problems arising.
Dr Berceli has been attending mostly to people at the more severe end of the trauma
spectrum, such as war and natural disasters. He worked with survivors of HURRICANE
KATRINA and the EARTHQUAKE IN CHINA. He has now worked and taught in over 30
countries using this tremoring method. The results have been excellent.
His results have been borne out by the latest studies in neuroscience which show that
when the tremoring restores the body to a state of deep relaxation and chemical and
endocrine balance, the areas of the brain linked to past trauma memories such as the
amygdala, actually begin to spontaneously heal.
TRE has the following additional benefits:
* it involves a safe, simple to learn exercise that can be taught to a large group at a time,
thereby making it useful for large scale trauma
* it does not require revisiting the trauma through talking
* it crosses cultural and language barriers
* it can be easily learned and administered by non-professionals such as first attenders,
paramedics, rescue workers, teachers, health care assistants etc
* it has a wide application and therefore particularly suitable for South Africa
* it does not require lengthy therapy or even talking therapy (although in some instances
psychological work is indicated)
* it is relatively quick: taking up to 3 months for full recovery of the neurophysiology.
* it is inexpensive, applicable therefore to population groups who are at the lower end of
the socio-economic scale.
* It works also for PAST trauma dating back to childhood and birth trauma. When the
physiology of the organism returns to balance and harmony, the client can work
differently and more effectively with “talk therapies” when these are still required.
TRE and self maintenance in at risk professions
Many helping professionals are less aware of the more subtle effects of vicarious or secondary trauma they have experienced from their clients. Vicarious trauma refers to an
individualʼs own psycho-emotional reactions due to his or her exposure to othersʼ traumatic experiences. This phenomenon was previously diagnosed as burnout or
countertransference and therefore dealt with as an individual psychological issue.
For professionals who are constantly working with traumatized populations,
vicarious trauma becomes a much more serious issue because it can potentially
compromise the caregiversʼ health and well-being including increased incidence of
secondary post-traumatic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Self-help protocols for all helping professionals working in the field of trauma such as
police, fire department, prisons, medical care workers etc, are necessary to avoid long-
term damage to mind and body.