Healing Trauma in Unexpected Ways

Many of us have dealt with, or are dealing with, some form of trauma. This year at TEDMED, three Speakers will take the stage to share how they are helping relieve the effects of trauma using what some view as non-traditional healing methods. Whether it’s examining how marijuana can treat neuropathic pain, using guided imagery and drawing to heal psychological trauma, or using spoken word to heal the emotional wounds of war, the TEDMED Speakers described below are passionate about relieving suffering and improving lives.

Image provided by David Casarrett.

Image provided by David Casarett.

One of those speakers is David Casarett, the director of the Duke Center for Palliative Care, whose recent work has focused on medical marijuana – something David originally thought was a joke. But after researching the topic for his book, Stoned: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Marijuana, he realized that for many patients, there’s nothing funny about it. David spoke to people who use marijuana – often obtained from specialized clinics – to treat seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, and neuropathic pain (caused by nerve damage), which is notoriously difficult to treat. David sees potential not only in the use of medical marijuana to treat certain ailments but also in the way medical marijuana dispensaries have figured out how to deliver effective patient-centered care.

James Gordon, a Harvard-educated psychiatrist, has spent much of his life listening to and lessening the suffering of those who have experienced severe trauma – from runaway homeless children, to people living with life-threatening illnesses, to survivors of Civil War. In 1991, he founded the Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM) with the goal of creating a “worldwide healing community where people use practical mind-body skills to move through suffering and confusion toward a more hopeful, healthy, and confident future.” CMBM describes mind-body medicine as the use of meditation; guided imagery; yoga and exercise; self-expression in words, drawing, and movement; and, small group support to deal with the trauma and stress we all experience.

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Photo credit: The Center for Mind-Body Medicine.

Jim and his team started their work in the US teaching mind-body medicine to health professionals so they could integrate it into their practices in hospitals and clinics, schools and community-based programs. Soon Jim turned his attention to some of the darkest and most troubled places on the planet. CMBM began working in Mozambique, South Africa and Bosnia, and in 1998 – when war broke out in Kosovo –  Jim traveled there. Ultimately, CMBM’s faculty trained 600 Kosovar health workers and educators and the CMBM program became a pillar of the nation-wide Community Mental Health system. In the years since, Jim and his CMBM team of 160 have created what is likely the world’s largest, most effective program for population-wide psychological healing. The local teams they have trained have worked successfully with more than 200,000 children and adults in Gaza and Israel and with tens of thousands more in Southern Louisiana after hurricane Katrina, in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, with US veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and long-traumatized American Indians on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Peer-reviewed scientific research has demonstrated that these programs reduce post traumatic stress disorder by 80%. Everywhere they are offered, they enhance resiliency and bring healing and hope. Articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post and a 60 Minutes segment which features Jim’s work with war-traumatized children in Gaza and Israel convey the life-transforming power of his work, and his book, Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression shows how these techniques can be used by all of us who deal with our own forms of trauma and stress.

Image provided by Emi Mahmoud.

Image provided by Emi Mahmoud.

Another Speaker at TEDMED this year, Emi Mahmoud, uses self expression in words to help herself and others heal the traumatic wounds of war. Born in Sudan, Emi grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from Yale University earlier this year, where she studied Anthropology and Molecular Biology. It was at Yale that she began to excel in Spoken Word Poetry – a form of oral poetry performed live on stage – and in 2015, she won the Individual World Poetry Slam competition. Her poetry and performances are powerful, heartfelt and heart wrenching forms of expression, many of which are focused on Sudan and its people – often members her own family – who have become victims of the Civil War and famine that have plagued the country for decades. Addressing the fears and trauma of life in Sudan, and life as a refugee, is something Emi is passionate about. She has worked with the Yale Refugee Project and the Darfur Alert Coalition to help raise awareness about genocide worldwide, she teaches spoken word poetry to young people around the world as a way to empower and help them deal with the trauma and hardships they face, and she advocates for global education – in September of this year she delivered a powerful spoken word performance at the launch of the UN’s Report by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity. Her spoken word poetry is most powerfully felt when seen, so watch more of her performances via the links on her TEDMED page, and prepare to be moved.

We are honored to have these three compassionate, impressive, and inspiring speakers at TEDMED this year. Join us in Palm Springs to hear their talks live!