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Beyond Talk Therapy: A Holistic Approach to Trauma Healing

By Michal Spiegelman

One of the first therapists I ever worked with was not trauma-informed. If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have worked with her. Over the years, I received excellent guidance and support from trauma-informed therapists and coaches.

Even though my first therapist didn’t address my trauma wisely, she was one of my greatest teachers. My experience with her made me want to learn more about the complexities of trauma and the importance of taking a mind-body approach to healing.

How do we define trauma?

“Trauma” is a term used to describe any event, or accumulation of adverse experiences, large or small, that results in an intense emotional impact on a person. Trauma can range from physical violence, such as an assault, to emotional abuse caused by neglect or abandonment. It can also be caused by natural disasters, serious illnesses, and accidents.

It is important to recognize that trauma does not have to be a one-time event. Developmental trauma, such as experiencing neglect or having parents that are not fully present, can cause significant psychological, physical, and behavioral issues into adulthood.

I have dealt with trauma at all stages of my life, from childhood to surviving war to becoming a mother. This is a glimpse into my story of hardship, hope, and healing.

Generational trauma and my mother’s pain

My mother was born in Romania at the beginning of World War II. She told me that she and her parents had to hide when the Germans came to search their house, she had to wear a yellow patch in public, and she remembered seeing the streets in ruins after every aerial bombing. When her parents decided to escape Romania just after she turned four, she had to leave behind all her toys and dolls in the dead of night.

Their journey on the immigration ship Kazbak was fraught with danger. They passed through Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon and finally arrived at the Israeli immigration camp in 1944. Israel was under a strict regime of austerity and rationing, and food stamps were difficult for new immigrants to obtain. Even after escaping the Germans, my mother and her family were still in survival mode. This was imprinted on her nervous system, always waiting for the next crisis.

I don’t believe that the trauma my mother experienced during the first five years of her life was ever addressed or treated. When she turned sixty, she gave my siblings and me a diary documenting her childhood. It was as if she knew she would die only five years later, and she wanted us to understand where she came from.

My childhood trauma and finding compassion

One of the most frequent memories I have as a child is crying quietly in bed with a pillow over my head. I would close the door so my parents couldn’t hear me cry. As a young girl, I didn’t know why my mom was angry and anxious most of the time. I didn’t see that her heavy smoking and eating out of control was a way for her to escape. As an adult, I understand that her addictive tendencies and aggressive behaviors were related to her unaddressed childhood trauma.

Years after she passed, my trauma studies led me to Bessel A van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. I had an epiphany. My mother’s unresolved trauma had been passed down to me. When I heard him say in an interview that being traumatized makes a person difficult to get along with, my entire childhood made sense; a traumatized mom raised me.

“Being traumatized,” writes Kolk, “means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still going on-unchanged and immutable-as every new encounter or event is contaminated by the past.” The more I learned about trauma, the more it became clear that trauma isn’t necessarily a one-time event. 

The absence of childhood nurturing and support can cause developmental trauma. Psychiatrist Mark Epstein calls it “the trauma of everyday life,” also the title of his book.

Now that I understand more about the long-term effects of trauma, I see my mother in a new light. As a child, I was quite fearful of her. As an adult, I have compassion for the circumstances that contributed to her living a life that was physically and emotionally unhealthy. I can only hope that my courage to meet my mother’s pain that I carried and heal it allowed me to break the chain of generational trauma.

My mother numbed her feelings and didn’t speak about her past. My openness to talk about my childhood with my children helped them not take on much of the trauma I carried from my mother. As young adults, my son and daughter have worked with a therapist for years, benefiting from a support system my mother never had.

Years after she passed, my dad apologized for not protecting me from my mother’s aggression as a child. He was one of the kindest, most caring people I have ever met. In time, I was able to forgive, make peace with, and free my parents from the responsibility of my happiness. We have maintained a loving relationship since they both crossed to the other side. They visit me often in my spiritual practice and my dreams.

Living in a combat zone and the trauma of war

Generational and adverse childhood experiences weren’t the only trauma I carried over the years.

A vivid memory emerges as I write these words:

The siren starts at 2 AM. I am a young mother; my son is only a year and a half old. Seeing his parents wearing gas masks, he screams in fear and vomits. With shaking hands, we enclose him in a tent-like crib. We don’t know yet what kind of missiles were fired on Israel. I want to take him out and comfort him, but I know that he might die if I do.  

Growing up in Israel, I lived through four wars. But the 1991 Gulf War was the most traumatic. It was days before we learned that the weapons fired on us were conventional, with the intent to harm. I had never been so scared in my life. Eventually, we got into a routine of running to the bomb shelter or hunkering down in a safe room in our apartment.

I remember struggling to make simple decisions: Should I shower now or not? What if the siren starts when I have shampoo in my hair? Should I put dinner in the oven? Will I remember to turn off the stove if the siren starts? Sleeping fully clothed, with shoes beside the bed, became standard. When the siren sounded in the middle of the night, we had to rush to the bomb shelter immediately.

I remember being so worried for my family and friends. After each attack, we checked in with one another, holding our breath until we knew everyone was safe. My husband, baby son, and I lived close to Tel Aviv, which became a hot spot during the Gulf War. When I could no longer deal with the constant anxiety, we moved in with my aunt and uncle, who lived further from the city.

The trauma stayed with me for years. I’d startle whenever I heard an ambulance siren or loud noises. To this day, every time there is a rocket attack on Israel, I think about the mothers, Arab and Israeli, who feel helpless and scared. No mother, regardless of nationality, race, or religion, should fear that she can’t keep her children safe. No mother should have to hold a crying baby in her arms, knowing that the threat of constant destruction will affect them forever.

I worry every day for the mothers living in war zones in the Middle East and across the world. I also have deep gratitude for the tools I have now to help me identify when I’m triggered and experiencing a trauma response.

The trauma of motherhood and losing six babies

I had always dreamed of having a house full of children.

In the sixth month of my first pregnancy, I was admitted to the hospital with severe bleeding. My happiness turned to sorrow after going through early labor and losing the baby. A litany of tests confirmed that I was born with a damaged uterus because of a medication that my mother was given when she was pregnant with me. It was called Diethylstilbestrol (DES), and all the daughters born to mothers exposed to this drug during the two years it was prescribed were affected.

I am eternally grateful for the son and daughter that I do have. Their kind, smart, creative personalities and presence in my life brings me great joy. However, losing six pregnancies and my dream of being a mother to many children left lingering trauma. Every time I went into early labor and lost another baby, my heart filled with grief that was too much to carry. My last pregnancy that stopped was the most traumatic of all because I didn’t want to give up on trying.

Now, I see the trauma of losing the babies as a gift. Not because it was meant to happen but because it opened the door to my deeper understanding of trauma.

Talk therapy alone is not enough to heal trauma trapped in the body

Trying to address my childhood and adult trauma with a therapist who was not trauma-informed unlocked a deeper mission for me. After testing many different healing modalities over the years and developing proven techniques, I’ve honed a more holistic approach to trauma healing.

For healing to take place, we must address the trauma stored in the body and create a safe container, not only mentally but also energetically. 

Talk therapy and cognitive awareness will only heal so much without addressing the trauma that is stored on a cellular level. Many of the women I mentor come to me after doing talk therapy for years. They have addressed their trauma mentally and emotionally, but they remain stuck somatically and energetically.

Identifying the trauma in their bodies and creating a safe container to release it was the missing puzzle piece on their healing journey. By expanding their trauma healing into the somatic and the energetic, they were finally able to live without their past controlling their present. This doesn’t mean that they were no longer triggered from time to time. But by taking a holistic approach, they were able to learn how to respond to triggers from a healthier place.

A somatic & holistic approach to trauma healing

A somatic approach to healing looks at the body’s response to traumatic experiences. It focuses on physical and emotional self-awareness, therapeutic touch, movement, breathwork, and mindfulness. With a body-based approach, we can learn to reconnect with our bodies after trauma to process and release any stored emotions that are standing in the way of our healing.

Talk therapy is useful to help process trauma on a mental level. But trauma survivors find that they often have feelings that underlie the experience that stay stuck. By including somatic techniques such as deep breathing, grounding, and visualization, we can release those underlying feelings, forgive ourselves, and regain control of our lives.

Creating a safe container in the present moment

For those of us who have experienced trauma, it is important to create a safe container where we feel held and carried as we process and heal.

Trauma is not a memory. It’s an experience that impacts the brain and the body. When our trauma is triggered in the present, our system goes into “danger mode.” While it is essential to let the brain learn that we are no longer in danger, we must also train the body and mind to be calm in the present moment. Otherwise, we can stay stuck feeling threatened.

Reiki, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, acupuncture, color healing, sound healing, dance, and other practices are just a few of the many trauma-supportive healing modalities available to us.

While Reiki is not the only way, I believe it is one of the best modalities for healing trauma. Reiki is a self-guided healing technique that anyone can learn. It is simply the energy of the universe or life force energy. When you lay your hands on specific areas of your body, you allow Reiki to flow through you and calm your nervous system.

The biggest value of integrating Reiki (or other energy work modalities) with talk therapy is the ability to create a safe container for people healing from trauma. 

I believe that to truly heal from trauma, we must take a holistic approach that combines talk therapy with somatic practices and energy work within a safe container.

By learning energy work techniques like Reiki and charging your body with life-force energy, you can help support your trauma-healing mind, body, and spirit.

If you’ve experienced trauma, know that you’re not alone. I hope that by sharing my story, you’ve gained some wisdom and hope on your own healing journey. If you’re curious about learning Reiki to help heal your past, read about our Reiki classes.

I want to finish this post with a wish: May your healing come with ease and comfort. Thank you to any professionals out there for your amazing work helping others heal. If you feel I can be of help, learn about how you can work with me. I would be delighted to guide you further on your journey. 

Meet Michal
Michal Spiegelman

Michal Spiegelman is Medical Intuitive who helps women get to the root source behind disease, disharmony, imbalance, stress, and trauma-related conditions.

Having studied in Israel, Germany, England, and the U.S., Michal is a Certified Professional Coach, a Reiki Master, and a former social worker who brings years of experience working with a variety of modalities into her intuitive teachings, coaching and mentoring.

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