Using Mindfulness Meditation to Overcome Trauma

  • Interview with Jaleh Donadlson, MFT, published by Yahoo Associated Content

Have you experienced a trauma in your life that seems to interfere with your daily living? If you answered, “yes” then mindfulness meditation could be a great way for you to overcome the impact that the trauma has had on you. To help understand what type of impact a trauma commonly has on someone’s life and how mindful meditation can help you overcome trauma, I have interviewed therapist Beth Patterson.


Tell me a little bit about yourself.

“I am a licensed psychotherapist and grief counselor in Denver, specializing in grief, loss and life transitions, depression anxiety and trauma.  After a long career as an entertainment attorney in New York City, I moved to Colorado and obtained a masters degree in transpersonal counseling psychology fromNaropa University, a Buddhist-inspired University in Boulder.  I have received advanced training in EMDR, which has been proven to be highly effective in treating trauma, anxiety and other issues.  I am also a certified mindfulness meditation instructor.  In addition to my private practice, I am the Life Care Coordinator and Bereavement Coordinator for SolAmor Hospice in Denver.”


What type of impact can a trauma have on someone’s overall life?

“Unresolved trauma can affect every aspect of a person’s life: physically, socially, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually.  Intrusive thoughts and images can impact a person’s sleep, eating and overall health.  The flight, fight or freeze response in coping with unresolved grief can impact a person’s social and emotional life.  Trauma is usually accompanied by negative beliefs such as “I am not safe”, I do not deserve love”, “The world is a terrifying place”, “God cannot help me”, “I deserved to be hurt”, etc.  This obviously affects the traumatized individual’s cognition and spirituality.”

How can mindfulness meditation help someone overcome their trauma?

“There are a number of ways that mindfulness meditation can be a powerful tool in healing trauma.  Mindfulness meditation helps free people  (whether traumatized or not) from the seeming power of their thoughts, helping them stay in the present, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future (which don’t exist any way, from a Buddhist point of view!). In addition, I have found in my practice that many people dealing with depression, anxiety or trauma are not connected to their bodies. They literally live in their heads.  Mindfulness meditation helps a person focus on the breath and notice where thoughts and emotions are felt in the body. This experience can help the traumatized person get grounded, which is the first step in working with trauma.  As the person with trauma gets more in touch with his or her body, using the breath as a vehicle for grounding and staying presence, the traumatic images and thoughts can be released.”

What would a typical mindfulness meditation session be like for someone who wants to recover from their trauma?

“It has often been said that a healthy relationship between the therapist and client is what ultimately creates healing. Thus, the first step in working with traumatized individuals is creating an atmosphere and relationship of trust and safety.  Each individual is different, and different approaches may need to be used to create safety, trust and grounding.  In addition, for deeply traumatized individuals, the process may be more gradual, as it may be difficult for those individuals to stay in their bodies and in the present.

Once a safe and trusting relationship has been created, mindfulness meditation instructions are given. The first step of mindfulness meditation is the posture. Sitting in a relaxed yet upright position so that the breath can flow freely, and feeling both feet firmly on the floor.  This simple instruction to feel one’s feet on the floor can be incredibly grounding for a person experiencing trauma, and in fact anyone.  The next instruction is to follow the breath, noticing the coolness of the breath on the inhale, and the warmth and sense of release on the exhale.  When thoughts arise, simply notice them and let them go, coming back to the breath.  The client would then practice, first with verbal instructions, and then on his or her own, for a few minutes.  We would then review what occurred during the mindfulness meditation.  Of course, it is not easy for someone in a heightened emotional state to stay with the breath, and this would be validated and any progress made acknowledged.  I would ask the client to practice on his or her own between sessions, for no longer than ten minutes at first, then gradually increasing the length of the sessions. I would encourage the client to keep a journal of what is noticed.”

Would other forms of therapy need to be included in order to maximize the impact of mindfulness meditation?

“Cognitive therapy is always a component of trauma work, as noted above, helping traumatized clients realize that their negative beliefs about themselves and the world are not accurate, and ultimately replacing those beliefs with more positive and productive ones.

I have had wonderful success with EMDR in healing trauma.  EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.  It was discovered that some form of stimulation on both sides of the body, whether in the form of bilateral eye movements, tapping, and sounds or other forms, releases the traumatic material that is literally stuck in the brain in a way that makes it workable.  EMDR helps release traumatic images, transforming them into memories that no longer have a deleterious hold on the individual.   The beauty of EMDR is that it works on a cognitive level as well as the physiological level, not only facilitating the release traumatic images from the brain, but also allowing the individual to replace negative cognitions about him or herself with positive ones.  EMDR also works on a somatic level, with the therapist guiding the client to feel the traumatic images and negative beliefs in the body, thus further facilitating the transformation of the images into non-intrusive memories, and also transforming the negative beliefs into positive, useful ones.

Dream work, journaling and letter writing are other useful adjuncts in working with trauma.”

Thank you Beth for doing the interview on how mindfulness meditation can help someone overcome trauma. For more information on Beth Patterson or her work you can check out her website on