A patient who had multiple sports-related injuries as a young girl went on a cruise devoted to deep-water scuba diving. During that cruise, she dived in waters inhabited by large numbers of poisonous sea snakes. To this patient’s great terror, the snakes repeatedly swam near her— although she was never attacked.
Upon returning to the harbor and disembarking, she noted the common phenomenon of feeling as if the ground were tilting under her (moving much like the boat deck had). This sensitivity is generally known as Disembarkment Syndrome. I have called such conditions “Syndromes of Kindling.” They almost always occur in individuals with considerable childhood trauma.
Unfortunately, in this patient’s case, it did not disappear over time, but actually worsened. The patient then developed progressive pain plus redness alternating with pallor and ulcerations on her toes. These symptoms were consistent with the diagnosis of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD).
With a four month course of Somatic Experiencing®, her sensation of movement while standing quickly disappeared. The skin circulatory changes of RSD also gradually disappeared.
RSD is a vexing and disabling condition, the cause for which is unknown. However, I consider it to be a syndrome of Somatic Dissociation— the profound impairment of autonomic regulation of circulation, affecting a specific body part or region that has experienced trauma.
If a part of a patient’s body has participated in a traumatic event— for instance gone through a state of helplessness— that region may become dissociated. This subjects it to a severe loss of the circulatory system’s auto-regulation, leading to RSD. This process is almost always associated with a substantial history of childhood trauma that sensitizes the individual for life.
Physical somatic syndromes due to trauma will also resolve with SE®, which allows the affected body part to be assimilated back into the body/brain schema so that it is no longer dissociated.
Unfortunately these concepts are not taught as part of medical training, so I share them here.
Author Robert Scaer, M.D. directed the brain injury and chronic pain programs for many of his 20 years as medical director at the Mapleton Rehabilitation Center in Boulder, Colorado. Board certified in neurology, he practiced for 36 years. Now retired from clinical practice, Dr. Scaer continues to write and lecture in the field of traumatology. His book, The Trauma Spectrum: Hidden Wounds and Human Resiliency, is available here, at the Somatic Experiencing bookstore.
Photo by Hamed Saber