I went to the second of a series of talks to be presented by William Spear at Casa de Luz here in Austin (read about the first talk here). Spear is a longtime macrobiotics and Feng Shui expert, and he seems to have a good deal of experience in the area of counseling and coaching. Recently, Spear has been involved in counseling people immediately after traumatic disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes. He spoke last night about his theories and methods regarding counseling people after traumatic experiences.
Trauma, Emotion, and the Body
For Spears, a trauma is an event that presents actual or perceived mortal danger in a context in which we have no control. The core of Spear’s idea is that the body stores emotional traumas unless we have a chance to physically discharge the experience. The effects of storing such trauma in our bodily tissues are seen in negative health outcomes. I don’t remember specific outcomes he purported would arise from undischarged trauma, but imagine any way that your body might malfunction at the cellular and tissue levels.
An experience of profound fear is discharged by moving the body, and discharging grief is done by wailing and crying. Spears and his son, Jonah, with a group of volunteers approach communities impacted by trauma and guide the groups through exercises designed to facilitate physical discharge. The Spears’ took our small group through several minutes of such an exercise. We shouted at each other, shook, sighed, laughed, and trembled together as a group. I could see how this activity could be useful for a group affected by a profound tragedy.
William Spear also talked about how, as young people, we are discouraged from showing our feelings after stressful experiences. His main focus for now, however, seems to be treating more profound stresses with the goal of avoiding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the impacted population.
Spear says that a study was done using his techniques and none of the people who received the process of physical discharge experienced PTSD after major trauma. A control group experienced an 8% rate of PTSD diagnosis.
Spear outlined four natural emotions. He didn’t mention what he meant by natural emotions or what “unnatural” emotions might be. My interpretation was that these emotions are ones that arise from everyday human existence and are naturally used by the body to help cope with trauma and, in the case of love, develop relationships and connection. These emotions are
I think Spear is sharing some very important ideas, which he is developing into a book. I completely believe in the idea of storing emotions in our bodies, the negative impact that can have, and our ability to discharge them. The zest with which the Spears’ pursue and model the physical discharge process seems to be genuine and effective, and I applaud their work. I do believe more focus on the emotional (as opposed to physical) discharge process would be useful to complement the physical work. Additionally, I think that the attention of another person during the discharge process is key for proper processing of the trauma. There didn’t seem to be much focus on giving focused attention on individuals who are discharging. We are so discouraged from showing our feelings in society, having delighted attention from someone while you shake, scream, etc. would be a major contradiction to the inhuman pressure we typically face to stuff and suppress feelings.
What do you think? Do these ideas make sense? Is Spears too touchy-feely for you? Do you believe suppressed emotions can harm the body?