Lady Gaga recently announced that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain from being sexually assaulted when she was 19. She performed a song “Til It Happens to You” at the Oscars this year. The song was written for a documentary about sexual assault entitled The Hunting Ground.
It was very courageous for Lady Gaga to reveal her struggles with PTSD and related issues. From her interviews it is apparent she has gained deep insights into how the trauma has impacted her life. She is able to clearly articulate her understanding of how trauma impacts both mind and body.
What is most relevant for auto accident survivors is something Lady Gaga shared about her experience of chronic pain since being sexually assaulted. She talks about the trauma being in the tissues of her body which is expressed in chronic pain. Many auto accident patients present with chronic pain. Often the reported pain is discovered to have physical correlates on imaging studies such as MRIs or CT scans. But sometimes imaging studies are negative and show no physical indications of trauma or injury. Sometimes it is discovered there is nerve damage or soft tissue injuries that can be diagnosed from the response to various medical interventions. But sometimes, the pain is as Lady Gaga discusses, a physical or somatic representation of the trauma. Sometimes the pain is a combination of physical and emotional factors.
Several forms of psychotherapy have been developed to address how trauma is stored on a physical level. One such form is sensorimotor psychotherapy which helps people release the trauma that has been stored in the body via various exercises and experiences. EMDR is another approach which helps to track sensations in the body as part of a procedure designed to release the trauma.
I like to talk with patients about how the energy of trauma can get trapped in the mind and body which then takes on a life of its own, producing various symptoms and conditions until it can be processed and released. In shamanic cultures they refer to this energy of trauma as the spirit of trauma which the shaman helps the victim to release through various rituals and sometimes drugs. A Russian psychiatrist, Oga Kharitidi, wrote two excellent books about such Siberian shamanic healing practices.
So thanks to Lady Gaga for bringing the issue of trauma and pain into the public discussion. There is so much societal denial around such topics and it takes a major celebrity to open the taboo topic for discussion. As the song she sang says “Til It Happen to You” is very apropos to what many auto accident survivors, as well as other forms of trauma, experience with the response they receive from others. She is the perfect person to shine a light on this condition.