Releasing Trauma

by admin on June 9, 2013

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Although this article focuses on releasing trauma for horse riders, you can relate it to any activity that has caused trauma in your life.  I did not want to take away from the author or plagiarize her work so I posted the article as written.  However, I do believe Life Vessel works way better than the technique described for releasing trauma.  Dr. Scaer has been in the Life Vessel.  See article below.

Releasing Riding Traumas

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

What Rabbits Can Teach Us About Recovering From Bad Experiences

By Betsy Crouse, ACP-EFT


bcrouse been somewhere like this-shdwBucked off, run away with, dumped at a jump – any one of these is bad enough for a rider. But sometimes things get worse. Memory of a bad riding experience can fade quickly, or… it can linger on and on, replaying in the mind, causing fight-or-flight symptoms in the body. It can turn the pleasure of riding into a miserable struggle for inner control.

When this happens we’re likely to beat ourselves up, thinking we lack the will power to “just get over it.” We hate the jittery nerves, racing heart, and worse. Why can’t we be tougher, braver?. We might even hear it from family, peers or coaches: “Come on, buck up!”

In fact, the problem has nothing to do with a lack of will power, toughness, or bravery. It has to do with the absence of something that small, terrified creatures like rabbits do automatically after each life-or-death encounter in the wild. That something is known as the “discharge response.” (And we can make up for it when it’s missing – more about that later.)

A Lesson from Nature

Trauma experts Dr. Peter Levine and Dr. Robert Scaer pioneered decades of work on the discharge response. Dr. Levine, a psychologist who works with severely traumatized clients, wondered why wild animals, routinely threatened with death by predators, show none of the post-trauma effects so common in humans. His study of this question led to a striking new understanding of why people become traumatized.

Dr. Scaer, a neurologist, had been referring treatment-resistant patients to Dr. Levine. When these patients experienced dramatic improvements Scaer was deeply impressed, and drawn into his own quest to understand. At the heart of what the two men discovered lies the discharge response.

bcrouse dog chasing-cr-bdr-shdwTo understand how it works, consider a young rabbit grazing in your backyard. You open the back door and your dog Jake slips out. He spots the rabbit and launches forward, causing the rabbit to explode into action. To help her reach safety, her brain/body system unleashes a cascade of inner events, accompanied by a massive release of bio-chemicals.

In this drastically altered state the rabbit has access to a huge amount of energy which propels her toward cover at lightning speed.

As the rabbit reaches her hole, the dog lunges hard and his teeth close on soft fur. But he is, as they say, a hair short, and although the rabbit feels a sharp tug, she hurtles into darkness and safety.

The Freeze and the Discharge

What happens next is described by Dr. Levine in his book, Waking the Tiger. Plunging to the bottom of her den, the rabbit collapses. Totally limp, she seems dead. But soon she starts to tremble, then shake all over. She draws a deep breath, and… comes back to life. In a moment she is grooming herself, fully restored.

Her collapse is called the “freeze response.” It occurs when a dire situation (such as a rider losing control of a horse) seems to become hopeless. It’s triggered when fight-or-flight has failed and “doom” seems unavoidable. In our story, the yank on the rabbit’s fur caused the freeze – in that instant her body “thought” death was imminent.

In the freeze state pain does not register, so it’s a mercy for prey animals who are caught and killed. But it also creates a chance for survival. If the predator’s attention then wanders (like a fox-mom who turns to call her kits to dinner), the inert prey animal may quite literally shake “death” off and dash to freedom.

One other note about the freeze: depending on the severity of the trauma, its intensity ranges widely, from mild shock to the full-blown immobility seen in the rabbit. Humans rarely collapse, but experience lesser degrees of the freeze state on a regular basis.

The rabbit’s shaking is the discharge response. In his book The Body Bears the Burden, Dr. Scaer details how this vigorous movement dissipates the avalanche of survival-biochemicals pumped into the body by the fight-flight response. During this discharge, the brain processes the experience, and the body releases and resolves the associated physical/emotional distress.

So How Does All That Relate to Riding?

Truck on freewayImagine being run off with on a trail ride, by a horse who bolts across a busy four-lane road in front of a truck and then throws you into a ditch. Depending on your level of experience, you may fight to regain control; you’ll certainly fight to stay on the horse. And at some point, as your effort fails, your system will trigger the freeze, to protect you from anticipated harm.

When things like this happen to us, why don’t we emerge free of after-effects, like the rabbit did? Why, even if we’re ok, are we then likely to avoid trail rides, crossing roads on horseback, or riding that particular horse? Why will doing any of these things likely cause us mild to severe distress, distress that may linger on and on, even becoming permanent?

Levine and Scaer find the answer in something uniquely human: we experience all this post-traumatic stress because we don’t allow the discharge response to happen – we’re taught to not let our body/mind system “complete” a threatening event in the way it’s designed to do.

What do riders hear on the heels of their first fall? “Don’t let it get you down. You can’t give in to your fear – get right back on your horse!” The speaker means well, but the unintended result is that they interrupt the discharge response, and teach us to be critical of natural and important sensations and feelings. We don’t like the sensation of trembling and shaking, or the feeling of fear, and we learn to regard them as signs of weakness. We then do our best to block these sensations and feelings whenever they occur.

bcrouse positive plans 250x260This is the cause of the negative after-effects. As Scaer describes in 8 Keys to Brain-Body Balance, there is a process in the discharge during which the brain “relegates [the event] to the past as a survival learning experience.” Without the discharge, he explains, the experience is stored “as if the threat still exists, and thereafter, any cues linked in any way to the experience of the unresolved threat will trigger the fight-flight response…” (emphasis added, p.99)

bcrouse negative reaction 250x250Dr. Scaer’s words answer all the questions about our future negative reaction to circumstances related to our road accident. Regardless of conscious desires and goals (see above) our system, completely beyond our conscious control, keeps getting triggered (see right) by “any cues linked in any way” to that accident.

Releasing a Trauma – With or Without Help

Whether we’ll overcome being traumatized on our own depends on many things. The intensity of the threat, whether we were injured (and if yes, how badly), how helpless we felt, whether there were subsequent, related traumas. The milder and more recent the trauma, the more likely we’ll work it out naturally.

It’s easy to know if and when we have – we won’t experience any sign of fight-flight symptoms in similar circumstances. No jittery nerves, increased heart-rate, sweaty palms, scattered focus, or worse. For riders, this might also involve consideration of things like further training for a green horse, so noisy traffic won’t be a problem.

But one thing Levine and Scaer found is certain: we can help our system release the undischarged after-effects even of major trauma, and even if it happened years ago.

Their finding blends with and complements the work done by another handful of pioneers who, in the same time frame, gave birth to the new and growing field of “energy psychology.” Out of this collective work have come new techniques for releasing trauma that give us the results of the discharge response.

The most well-known of these is an acupressure-related technique called EFT, for Emotional Freedom Techniques (aka “tapping”). In Part 2 of this article we’ll look at how learning this powerful but gentle, step-by-step process can give riders what Nature intended – the ability to release trauma completely, whether large or small, recent or long past.

Like the rabbit, we can emerge from a riding accident steady and strong, and return to riding with joy and confidence!


Betsy Crouse is a certified EFT practitioner. She rode extensively earlier in her life, and was certified as a head instructor for handicapped riders. Following her years in that field, she studied and applied a range of holistic modalities with animals, including Tellington Touch, Bach Flower Remedies, and Reiki.

Betsy facilitates EFT in person and via Skype. Her confidence in her EFT training is reflected in her guarantee: if you are ever dissatisfied with the results of an EFT session, your fee will be refunded promptly, without question. For more information please visit her website:

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