Thomas R. McClaskey, D.C., B.C.E.T.S., F.A.A.E.T.S.
Stress, as viewed and defined by the standard medical model is "the sum of all non-specific biological phenomena elicited by adverse external influences including damage and defense. It may be localized, as in the Local Adaptation Syndrome (L.A.S.), or systemic, as in the General Adaptation Syndrome (G.A.S.)." This definition (from Dorland's Medical Dictionary) isolates the process of stress-induced physiological phenomena as they occur within the human body. From this model, clinicians can understand that measurements taken of the biochemical patterns of the body can be shown to be adversely affected, or thrown into a state of imbalance, when subjected to various negatively perceived "external" stimuli.
The value of this view lies in the fact that as various therapeutic interventions are utilized to treat a stress-induced imbalance, the effectiveness of that intervention can be evaluated relative to the return of the internal workings of the body to a more homeostatic condition. One significant aspect of this model that is all too often not taken into account in the therapeutic process lies in the isolated perception that the model itself engenders. This definition of stress is focusing on the effects of a process within a body. What the definition does not take into account is the reality that the body extends beyond the boundaries of any one individual's biochemical makeup.
Over the past several decades there has been an ever increasing paradigm shift in health care away from seeing illness as being caused by this or that pathogen. An understanding is growing toward the awareness that imbalance within the human body is much more due to the susceptibility of the individual to a particular stressor than it is due to the stressor itself. It is this susceptibility that is gaining greater understanding, and with this understanding is coming a greater awareness of why we become susceptible to imbalance, and what we can do to guard against becoming susceptible (i.e., victims).
The new paradigm that is opening awareness to the manner in which individuals become susceptible to diseases of all kinds has been given many names. Mind-Body Medicine, Wellness Care, Alternative Therapy, and Wholistic Medicine are a few of the labels which have been tagged to this movement away from the standard medical model of health care. The message of this new paradigm is that wellness is linked to much more than "this or that" pathogenic agent or stressor. Wellness is seen as the individuals overall relationship with both their internal and their external environment. This "new" view of being healthy has given birth to a burgeoning industry that focuses on diet, exercise, and, ever more increasingly, the spiritual nature of man. This reemergence of awareness regarding mankinds spiritual nature is leading to a different way of understanding the so-called stress-induced illnesses. As social structures become more and more populated we are, by necessity, becoming more and more aware that we are not isolated beings. The sense of aloneness is gradually being replaced by an awareness that we must attempt to learn how to live in balance with one another if we are ever going to live in balance inside our own selves. Knowledge and understanding of this interplay and balance gives a significant opportunity to therapists who work with victims of stress. It is an opportunity that should be carefully evaluated and utilized to its fullest potential since the single most important factor when working with victims of stress is to assist them in finding freedom from feeling like a victim. So long as an individual is trapped in the label of "victim," it is very difficult for any therapeutic intervention to have lasting effect.
With the unfolding of the new paradigm of Wholeness Medicine comes an opportunity to allow victims of stress to be taught that those around them are also affected by their experience.
In studies of survivors of varying types of stress-induced trauma, one consistent pattern that seems to play out over and over relative to successfully overcoming the effects of the trauma is the individual sense of regaining control over aspects of their life. One typical survival method is to find some way to help others. This simple, but powerful, survival tool frees the individual from overconcern for self and serves to sublimate the fear factor so often associated with stress-induced trauma. Regardless of the specific traumatic event that a person may experience in their life, be it cancer, abuse, or natural catastrophe, individuals who do best at surviving the experience are those who find some way to reach out to help other victims.
Built into any therapist's treatment regimen should be a plan to assist clients/patients to find ways to help others who may be either less fortunate than themselves, or who are close to the individual.
Helping individuals understand that those close to them often feel a deep sense of helplessness can give the individual an opportunity to escape their own feelings of fear, etc. by acknowledging and reaching out in some way to those around them. In this way, the sense of being alone in their circumstance can be diminished, and individuals can gain a sense of control over their lives which can very often be the key to freeing them from a damaging victim consciousness. This sense of freedom can very often be the difference between survival of stress-induced trauma or becoming lost in an endless pattern of increased symptomatology.
Susceptibility to the multiple effects that traumatic stress can inflict on an individual is very much linked to how the stressful event is perceived. Assisting clients to perceive their traumatic circumstance as an opportunity to help others can have a profound influence on how the body defends against the particular stressor. As therapists learn to understand and adopt the wholistic paradigm of healing, they will gain a clinically provable and powerful modality for assisting the healing process.
Â©1998 by The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, Inc.