Working with Clients suffering from Trauma and PTSD and the Fear Paralysis Reflex

Trauma, PTSD and CPTSD are psychological states that seem very prevalent in modern society, and I am finding that more clients are coming to me suffering from one of these conditions.

Trauma is the state we are left in when a distressing and overwhelming event leaves us psychologically damaged and feeling we cannot cope. We are flooded with stress hormones and often feel stuck and unable to move forward.  What causes trauma for one individual may be dealt with constructively for another, with much depending on our default patterns for dealing with stress.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is triggered by traumatic events that are so stressful that the person suffers flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and depression and an inability to cope with life. It occurs after exposure to a terrifying event such as combat trauma, witnessing a death, being involved in a terrorist incident or natural disaster.

Complex PTSD (CPTSD) is inter-personal in nature and results from prolonged trauma usually triggered by neglect, abuse, particularly childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence and exploitation. Sufferers from CPTSD experience all the symptoms of PTSD together with feelings of shame, guilt, lack of self-worth, difficulty regulating emotions and often resort to self-harm.

With both PTSD and CPTSD, sufferers feel stuck and unable to move on from the traumatic event or relationship. Changes take place in the brain, leading to impaired cognitive function: the thinking brain shuts down and prevents rational thought and the Amygdala takes charge, preparing the body for fight or flight as it switches the body to survival mode. Traumatic life experiences can leave the body in a constant state of fight, flight and even freeze, as protective responses. Trauma also impacts on memory as prolonged stress causes the dendritic connections in the Hippocampus to wither and die.

This can lead to severe psychological and physical problems as the physical experiences of the trauma create ongoing sensory experiences in the body. For many, these sensory experiences are intolerable and they will do anything to make them go away, which is why many turn to drugs, alcohol and self-harm to help them mask these painful sensations. Researchers from Yale University have found that adverse childhood experiences flood the body with inflammatory stress hormones, which negatively influence the stress response throughout life. The impact of this causes increased inflammation and the increased likelihood of cancer, heart disease and autoimmune diseases in later life.

As a Reflex Integration Specialist, I clearly recognize the links between PTSD and the Fear Paralysis Reflex. This is one of the earliest reflexes to emerge as our nervous system develops. The Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR) emerges at 5-7 weeks in utero. It is a cellular response that causes the embryo to withdraw and freeze when it encounters stress.

The FPR should slowly start to merge into the first part of the Moro reflex, which emerges about 9 weeks in utero, and gives the embryo access to movement as a stress response. This is the start of the ‘fight and flight’ response. These two reflexes are closely linked to the vagus nerve, which functions to allow us to move between calm and alertness as it governs the Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Nervous Systems. If we have high vagal tone then we can calm ourselves down quickly when our systems feel under threat. If the vagal tone is low then stress can overwhelm us and lead to chronic anxiety and depression.

If the pregnant mother is subject to ongoing stress then the FPR becomes stuck in the system and govern the baby’s response to stress throughout life, unless work is done to integrate it. The stress that the embryo faces can take many forms, including; the mother who does not want to be pregnant, the mother who has had several miscarriages and is scared of losing this baby, domestic abuse, unhealthy parental relationships and substance abuse to name but a few.

In my personal experience, my mother was stressed throughout her pregnancy with me, which meant that I was born with a low tolerance to stress and default patterns of fear, anxiety and worry. Fortunately, over the years, I have been blessed to learn many techniques to help me overcome these patterns, but, when I am stressed, they can still emerge! It is interesting that, as a therapist, I have attracted clients with the same patterns, enabling me to share what has worked for me to bring more ease and joy into their lives.

Over the years, I have worked with clients who have experienced trauma which for some has resulted in PTSD and CPTSD. Often they have tried many therapies to enable them to let go of the trauma and move forward positively with their lives, but have had limited success. Rhythmic Movement Training and techniques from Touch for Health Kinesiology have proved successful in helping my clients move forward positively with their lives when other therapies have failed.

Much of this work is based on working with the kidney meridian, which, in Traditional Chinese Medicine links to the emotions of fear and anxiety. Combined with the rhythm of Rhythmic Movements, this work calms the limbic system and enables individuals to regulate their emotions and start to feel safe. Bruce Perry, an American Psychiatrist and founder of the Child Trauma Academy, is convinced that rhythm regulates the brain. He says:

“The only way to move from these super-high anxiety states is rhythm.”

Working in this way with clients enables them to let go of the terrible fear created by the trauma and start to rebuild their lives from a place of safety and security. Here is one person’s experience with RMTi:

I came across RMTi a few years ago and it’s changed my life. After years and years of talking therapies I got a good understanding of my CPTSD and a massive tool box full with techniques on how to cope with triggers and self care but I always felt I needed to heal the body as well, especially my nervous system. The changes over the last few years since I’ve been working on my retained reflexes are very subtle but so profound and deeply healing.

Enabling clients to rebuild their nervous systems through gentle movement supports neural reorganisation and helps reduce the amount of time spent in the stuck state of the Fear Paralysis Reflex. Holding the space for these individuals as they start to rebuild their lives is a privilege and an honour.


Janice Graham

RMTi and Touch for Health Instructor

January 2020