Therapy for depression

There is no way around it, when it comes to healing the mind and the body, the way out is through. Whether you are healing from a broken bone, or going to therapy to address trauma,  in order to heal, you have to feel. 

An Aha Moment

I’m lying on the massage table trying to relax, but the feeling in my shoulder, something similar to being prodded with a white hot poker, won’t let me.

“Oh. My. God. . . what is happening?”, I spat out, unable to contain myself any longer.

“It’s scar tissue, and lots of it”, my therapist told me. She went on to explain that the reason my right shoulder was on fire was because there was a dense patch of scar tissue that had built up, and it was preventing the muscles, tendons and bones from working correctly. My shoulder was on fire because she was using her fingers and manipulating my scapula in order to loosen it and break it up.

The Intelligent Body

That instantly made sense to me.

“I broke my right collarbone falling off a paddle board two years ago. My shoulder has never felt the same”, I explained to her. 

She then went on to explain to me that when I broke my collarbone, I likely injured my shoulder in the fall. In order to protect that part of the body, the muscles in the shoulder created holding patterns and readjusted themselves to protect the injured parts. As the body repaired the damaged tissue, scar tissue formed around the injury and the muscular holding pattern in order to protect it. 

As I lay on the table,  I began to think about how amazing the mind/body connection is. The way the body protected the injury after I fell off my paddle board is exactly the same process that happens when we experience emotional trauma. The intelligent body kicked in and created an adaptation (muscle holding pattern) strategy, and then a defensive structure (scar tissue) to protect the wound and avoid exposure to further pain. 

Pain – The Canary In The Coal Mine

This is exactly what the mind / psyche does when we become overwhelmed with emotional pain. When we experience trauma, we develop adaptation strategies  designed to protect ourselves from experiencing further wounding and defense mechanisms to numb the pain. 

When I called for a massage therapist, I didn’t know the pain was caused by scar tissue, I just knew I was hurting. The pain caused me to call, but it was actually the scar tissue that needed to be dealt with. This pattern is similar in psychotherapy, as 9 times out of ten it is our defense mechanisms and the troubles they cause that bring people into psychotherapy.  At my therapy practice in Atlanta, one of the things we specialize in is working with trauma. Very few people, however, call us identifying that they need help processing their trauma. The pain is not the root issue, rather, the canary in the coal mine, alerting us to a larger problem.

What they might say is something closer to:

I’m having marital issues”

“I cant concentrate – is this depression?”

“I have an eating disorder or an addiction”

 These things we do out of compulsion are actually defense mechanisms. Psychology has labels, and diagnoses they assign to our problems, but these behaviors are evidence of emotional scar tissue. Like the body creates scar tissue, the psyche will create strategies, such as depression, and eating disorders, to protect its wounded parts.

Body Parts & Ego Parts

just as the body has parts – hands, feet, and collar bones – the psyche also has parts. I call these parts ego-state parts. A simplified explanation of how ego-state parts form is that when we experience trauma, a part of our psyche fragments. It separates and is forever frozen in time, with the developmental capacity of a person at the age the trauma occurs. None of this is conscious.

We then create defense strategies that exist and function specifically to protect the original fragmented part. These defense strategies, such as an eating disorder, become their own ego-state parts. So, following this thread, the eating disorder forms to protect the Wounded Child part.

Case Example – Childhood Trauma

If a child is severely bullied, the trauma (pain) is too overwhelming, so a part of their psyche fragments. Children simply don’t have the developmental capacity to deal with the pain. Let’s call the part of the psyche that fragments “The Wounded Child”. The wounded child part is the internalized ‘memory’ of  the original injury (like the collar bone break). 

This part just can’t carry all of the emotional pain and trauma. The psyche creates a strategy (similar to a muscular holding pattern) to work around the wound, such as people-pleasing. The child learns that if they are quiet, helpful, & easy going, they stay under the radar, avoiding rejection and criticism. They learn people pleasing ways of becoming needed and valued, developing ways of counteracting the rejection in favor of belonging.

The issue with this defensive strategy is that it creates its own pain, which then needs protection. People pleasing can lead to neglect of self, disconnection from self, & fear of conflict. These things can lead to emotional isolation (to name only a few of the issues it creates). Depression, or an eating disorder are ways we cope with the pain that comes with this loss of connection to self.

Depression is a systemic shut down. It makes it so we are never fully present, or fully feeling. Eating disorders are a way of channeling our pain into an obsession hat keeps us distracted from the real issue. These coping strategies, like scar tissue, become the problem that brings people into the therapy office. And indeed, they are problematic, but they are chicken pock, not the virus itself. The problem that is on the surface is simply the scar, it is not truly the wound itself.

Physical & Emotional Trauma Scar Tissue

Physical Body PartsEgo State Parts
Original Injury/ Pain: broken collar boneOriginal Injury/ Pain: A child is bullied and rejected
Holding Pattern (protect injured part): muscular tension holding pattern around right shoulderHolding Pattern (protect injured part): People pleasing develops in order to protect the wounded child and keep them away from the wound of rejection.
New Injury / Pain: Muscular tension and knots, scar tissue preventing fluidity of movement in shoulderNew Injury / Pain: neglect of self, disconnection after years of focusing more on others, fear & avoidance of conflict leading to emotional isolation.
Scar tissue (defends holding pattern): Developed around collarbone and shoulderScar tissue (defends holding pattern): Depression or an eating disorder develop in order to distract or numb the pain

In order to avoid pain, we create defenses, which eventually become the pain!  And then, we have to feel some pain in order to eventually feel well! We trade one type of pain for another. The avoidance of feeling the pain, at any cost, is the root of the problem. Our problems are not pathology – they are defenses! You are human, and that means you have an incredibly complex process of defense and survival operating at all times. Understanding the origin of the “issue” is a critical step for having compassion for yourself. Compassion creates the safe foundation for your process away from pain, and towards reclaiming your lost connection to self.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This