Taking an Integrative Approach to PTSD & Complex Trauma

A case study with Dr. Leslie Korn

Leslie Korn, Ph.D., MPH, LMHC

Treating trauma is complicated, challenging, deeply personal, and never one size fits all. And even with the ever-expanding body of research and number of interventions available…

For some clients, it’s just not enough.

I’ve been a psychotherapist for over 40 years. One of the things that I’ve learned is that to get the most benefit, my patients do much better when they combine nutrition, yoga, and meditation with integrative methods like herbal medicine and hydrotherapy.

I want to share with you a sample case study. This is an individual who came to me, and I think you’ll find her very similar to many of your clients. Let me show you how I applied the Brainbow Blueprint® to help address her mood, sleep, and chronic pain.

    Sarah is a 35-year-old professional with a history of complex trauma and repeated traumatic exposures as an adult. She has a lot of anxiety and feels dissociated much of the time. She’s been experiencing challenges in her interpersonal relationships, and that’s what brought her into counseling. She’s also been previously misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and ADHD.

    She complains of fibromyalgia, which you may know is highly associated with complex trauma. Sarah also has pelvic floor pain, which is very common in both men and women who have been sexually abused. She has digestive problems: nausea, GERD (acid reflux), and constipation.

    Sarah also complains of poor sleep. It’s hard for her not only to get to sleep, but to stay as sleep as well. She was waking up early in the morning and then falling back asleep and not getting up until 11 A.M. She also experiences a lot of traumatic nightmares and restless leg syndrome.

    She experiences many challenges to self-care. She is consuming lots of sugar, fast food, soft drinks, and coffee.

    She wants to reduce the use of her medications, which are causing weight gain and low libido.

One of the things Sarah said to me when we first began was, “I’m seeing so many clinicians. Everyone’s telling me something different. Someone’s treating my acid reflux. Someone else is talking about constipation. I went to a therapist who told me to breathe, but it didn’t really help my constipation or colitis. I really need someone that can help me pull it all together and understand how everything is related.

I told Sarah that she’d come to the right person, because that’s what I do and what I teach: understanding the pieces of the puzzle. Let me share how I used the Brainbow Blueprint® with Sarah and worked with her as a collaborator to coordinate treatment.

Brainbow Blueprint
The first thing I did is say, “Sarah, here’s this blueprint. What are your priorities? I want to know what’s most important to you about your complaints.” She expressed she didn’t want to start with exercise, and I said that was fine. I wanted to start with something that would feel easy and manageable for her, then revisit exercise in a few months.

What we recognized together was that carrying out any kind of self-care activity was difficult for Sarah. This is common in trauma and PTSD: the sense of learned helplessness. We decided to work on that in counseling together.

Additionally, Sarah identified that her diet was of interest to her. She wanted to change, but she didn’t want to go too quickly. That was fine; I didn’t need to do a lot besides suggest small dietary changes, like giving up margarine for olive oil. We titrated as we went along. If Sarah struggled with making changes, we slowed down. If she moved right along, we sped up.

Next, we addressed her dependence on soft drinks and coffee. Aspartame is very disruptive to glutamate receptors in the brain – the receptors that can make you anxious. And while a cup of coffee in the morning can be a mood booster, more than that can exacerbate insomnia. Once she learned this and was given some alternative recipes, Sarah was quick to change her diet.

We then focused on sleep and mood. Sarah said, “You know, I’m just up and down all the time.” Some of the work we did with her diet helped stabilize her, but without good sleep, it’s hard for anyone to have a good mood. Therefore, I gave her some herbs, as well as some breathing and yoga exercises to help facilitate sleep.

One of Sarah’s goals was to reduce her medication and ultimately come off it. I asked for permission to speak with her prescriber, who was a little hesitant, because she didn’t know a lot about using an integrative approach. I shared with her my suggestions and welcomed her suggestions, and we worked as a team to help Sarah reduce her medication as we improved her diet and nutrition.

Three months later, Sarah said she was ready for some exercise. We integrated more yoga with a little bit of aerobic exercise, and Sarah was then able to eliminate nearly all her medications.

We also worked on Sarah’s digestion. Our digestion is essential to extract and utilize the nutrients and fats our brains need to recover from trauma. Over time, we integrated mindfulness for digestion. I also taught her some hydrotherapy and a belly massage.

When I first started talking with Sarah, she said that one of the traumas that she’d experienced involved compression against her throat. It had left her with a lifelong inability to swallow easily. We did a lot of work on relaxing her throat muscles. She also saw a physical therapist who did cranial-sacral work.

To relax, we did breathing exercises, but when it came time to discuss nutrition, she said, “Don’t give me capsules. I can’t really swallow pills.” I asked if she’d be willing to try a smoothie with some ground-up B vitamins and a little magnesium powder. We used chamomile licorice root tea as the base, then added hemp milk, berries, coconut oil, and fish oil. Sarah was able to swallow this smoothie and enjoy it.

It was heartening to work with Sarah. That’s not to say that it was all uphill. She sometimes made improvements, stabilized, then backtracked a little. That’s the nature of trauma recovery, our clients, and the compassion we offer them.

As a thanks for reading this blog, click here to download two free resources. Want to learn more about my approach to treating complex trauma and PTSD? I hope you’ll consider my certification training: Integrative Medicine and Nutrition for PTSD and Complex Trauma.
Become an Expert in an Integrative Approach to Trauma Treatment
Integrative Medicine & Nutrition for PTSD and Complex Trauma
In this comprehensive certification training, Dr. Leslie Korn guides you step-by-step through the process of applying integrative medicine and nutrition for the treatment of PTSD, complex trauma, mild traumatic brain injury, and more. Upon completion, you’ll be immediately eligible to become certified in Integrative Medicine & Nutrition for Trauma Treatment.
Meet the Expert:
Leslie Korn, PH.D., MPH, LMHC, ACS, RPP, NTP, NCBTMB, is a renowned integrative medicine clinician and educator specializing in the use of nutritional, herbal and culinary medicine for the treatment of trauma and emotional and chronic physical illness. She is known for her dynamism and humor as a speaker. She has provided over 50,000 hours of treatment in private practice for diverse populations. Her clinical practice focuses on providing clients effective alternatives to psychotropics. She completed her graduate education in the department of psychiatry and public health at Harvard Medical School and her life training in the jungle of Mexico where she lived and worked alongside local healers for over 25 years. She directed a naturopathic medicine and training clinic facilitating health, culinary and fitness retreats. She is licensed and certified in nutritional therapy, mental health counseling, and bodywork (Polarity and Cranial Sacral and medical massage therapies) and is an approved clinical supervisor. She introduced somatic therapies for complex trauma patients in out-patient psychiatry at Harvard Medical school in 1985 and served as a consultant in ethnomedicine to the Trauma Clinic, Boston. She is the former clinical director and faculty of New England School of Acupuncture and faculty at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine.

She is the author of the seminal book on the body and complex trauma: Rhythms of Recovery: Trauma, Nature and the Body (Routledge, 2012), Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health (W.W. Norton, 2016), Eat Right Feel Right: Over 80 Recipes and Tips to Improve Mood, Sleep, Attention & Focus (PESI, 2017), Multicultural Counseling Workbook: Exercises, Worksheets & Games to Build Rapport with Diverse Clients (PESI, 2015) and The Good Mood Kitchen (W.W. Norton, 2017). She was a founder of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, a Fullbright scholar in Herbal Medicine and an NIH-funded scientist, in mind/body medicine. She is an approved clinical supervisor and is the research director at the Center for World Indigenous Studies where she designs culinary and herbal medicine programs with tribal communities engaged in developing integrative medicine programs.

Learn more about their educational products, including upcoming live seminars, by clicking here.

Topic: Diet and Nutrition | Trauma

Tags: Anxiety | Diet and nutrition | Healthy food | Nutrition | Strategies | Success | Trauma | Trauma Treatment

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