Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Dr. Alina Soto (they/them), founder of Terra Dusa and Terra Dusa Academy for Integrative Growth, is on a mission to change the healthcare system and how we think about mental health. In what's stated to be the hottest year recorded in human history, healing, and social support on a warming planet are more crucial than ever. Dr. Soto who specializes in Focal Neurocognitive & Physio-emotional Integration Therapy is here to show us their holistic approach.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Reflecting on years of healthcare experience, Dr. Soto highlights the importance of spreading acknowledgement, social support, and connection through healing times.
How do you define trauma? Why is it important for people to have a shared understanding of the topic?
In trauma, the nervous system is stuck in a loop—it’s repeating the past as if it’s in the present. Trauma is not just emotional, but also physical. Experiences of trauma and traumatic stress are way more common than you may think. Not including traumatic events occurring in adulthood, around 60% of adults have had some sort of traumatic experience in their childhood. 17% of adults have had 4 events or more.
Trauma is also about impact. There are many other factors that can impact whether or not you’re 1) going to feel traumatic stress, or 2) you’re going to be impacted by an event that's going to be overwhelming and create trauma. A traumatic event is something that’s very overwhelming to the system—and can include everyday life challenges such as breakups, divorces, car accidents, financial loss, etc.
There are many factors that can impact this event and can lead to trauma. Social support and developmental age are examples of factors. For example, let’s say you have a financial loss, you’re 90 years old, and you live alone. If you’re isolated and have no resources to build up wealth again nor support, that financial loss is way more likely to induce traumatic stress on this person than a healthy 21 year-old who may still have many opportunities ahead. So, we have to pay attention to these factors.
People also may not think they have experienced trauma when they experience traumatic events. The biggest ones people miss, or may not recognize, are emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse. Even though an event may happen only once, the impacts are still there and can lead to traumatic stress. But traumatic stress itself is not necessarily abnormal—it’s normal if you have trauma overall or experiences that trigger traumatic stress. When we talk about PTSD, it’s an indicator that this person was not really supported before, during, or after a specific event. The problem starts getting worse. If we only think about traumatic stress as a biological impact that happens after an overwhelming event, it’s there to protect you. Traumatic stress can help you avoid the event and keep it from happening again.
We tend to perpetuate the lack of social support. It’s important to understand what trauma means because people expect themselves to snap out of trauma or traumatic stress instantly. Difficult events affect each person differently. What’s going to affect a child is different than how it’s going to affect a young adult.
What is the baseline level of support for your patients and people who have experienced these situations?
If people are coming to me, it means the support they received was dismissive. They were either told to get over the situation or they didn’t have external support outside of their family.
Ideally, acknowledgement is the support we want—the opportunity to be able to say that something sucks. It can be monumental and powerful. The biggest issue is that some people aren’t given the chance to process what’s happening. We often see this in childhood trauma. Not allowing children to process their own experience is why we see problems show up in adulthood. Some parents may shelter children from their own experience, which can prevent them from processing, expressing themselves, and really talking through what happened.
We’re not just doing it to children, but also to adults. We’ve been conditioned to shrug situations off and not process them correctly. You need to let them talk about it and ask the right questions rather than keeping them from thinking about the issue at hand.
What does healing look like in your practice and how is it different from other approaches?
I created my own approach in my practice called Focal Neural Cognitive and Physio-emotional Integration (FNPI). In summary, I’m trying to help someone form a focal point and integrate all parts of mental health.
Emotions are physically and chemically real, and are affecting things all over our bodies. Emotions are there to create energy and produce an action. My practice helps people understand that these reactions shouldn’t be overlooked.
I also challenge people to redefine their definition of logic. We think about logic as a non-emotional phenomenon. Logic means including all variables of an equation, so you need to have a full equation. If you’re taking a variable such as emotionality and trying to exclude it, you don’t have all the variables. Therefore, you can’t be truly working from a place of logic. You’re actually being more emotional. If you’re saying emotions don’t matter, there’s a high likelihood that you’re acting out of fear or shame of your own emotionality. If you’re trying to be logical by avoiding emotions, you’re actually being fairly emotional.
We need to move everything as one. After a body experiences a negative response, we’ll most likely be scared. That’s considered logical. We go into a survival response. It doesn't matter who you’re, you’ll have some sort of survival response. After that, you’ll have a cognitive phase where you think about your problem. The brain evolved to create solutions first and then transition into an action phase. If we go into this phase right away without calming the survival response and helping our nervous system feel safe, we just end up going through a loop again and again (ie., trauma). I’m helping my patients resolve that pattern and figure out what they’re aiming for.
How do we heal in a broken system?
We can start by acknowledging and recognizing that if a provider themselves isn’t being taken care of, the provider doesn't feel safe. To change the system, it’s going to take a balance of recognizing that we need to make a system that doesn’t take advantage of anyone. A system that does not take care of its providers cannot provide effective healing.
We need to let individuals be individuals. You can start to acknowledge yourself, so we can continue to acknowledge others. It’s hard to apply this to the current system because it requires people who are already in the system to look at themselves. This is difficult enough on its own and even more difficult if you’re already depleted and feel like you don’t have time or support to heal yourself. This is key for improving the quality of care you provide to others. You cannot give or offer healing from an empty cup. If you deplete yourself to create a better system, you’re just perpetuating the problem.
Our system doesn’t normalize taking care of ourselves. We need to figure out a balance of who we are and maintain our integrity as selves. In order to heal the larger system, you need to focus on yourself and make sure you’re okay. In doing so, you’re going to improve the quality of your relationships and the quality of the people around you. The healthier the human, the healthier their relationships. But, if the human self is unhealthy, they will form unhealthy connections—whether I create them, teach it, or accept it from somebody else. If you uplift the self, you can maintain these healthy connections.
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