Personal disclosure - I originally got involved in shamanism in order to treat the PTSD I had been diagnosed with. Originally I thought, "Oh, I'll just take these courses and learn how to heal myself."
What I wasn't exactly prepared for was becoming a "wounded healer." Some of my symptoms, particularly dissociation, actually helped me with shamanic journeying. Soon, I found people coming to me for help.
And I'm happy to report that I live essentially symptom-free these days. I can't claim to cure anything (the FDA or whoever would not be pleased).
What is Trauma?
When I speak of trauma, I'm talking primarily about psychological and spiritual trauma. For physical trauma, a good shaman would apply first-aid and call 911.
To simplify, trauma is something which causes psychological shock or overwhelm. Violence, abuse, natural disasters, even just witnessing these things can cause what we'd call trauma. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are a form of ongoing trauma that have significant effects on the health and well-being of adults. Surgery, violent words, grief - can all also have a traumatic effect.
Trauma can present as any number of psychological conditions - most often as depression and anxiety. But dissociation - the state of feeling like things are unreal or that you are outside your body, is a telltale symptom of trauma.
We know that trauma affects the brain and the body on a physical level. The danger warning systems in the brain can become hyperactive, and there can be muscular tension and an inflammatory response in the body.
I believe that is useful to think of trauma as a systemic injury to the body, mind, and spirit - even if the medical model would disagree. What helped me, personally is treating the whole self.
From a shamanic perspective, during trauma, part of the soul escapes to safety. You dissociate. I can remember this happening to me during childhood during times of extreme danger. The issue is that part, which we call an essence, may get lost, or stuck and may not come back right away. There can also be a "slow leak" of soul essence if there is ongoing danger or stress or abuse.
This creates a fragmented self. The symptoms of soul loss are many but include depression and anxiety, loss of energy, loss or creativity. It may also bee that you go through periods where you recreate the trauma.
How Do Shamans Treat Trauma?
In many shamanic cultures where soul loss is recognized, there is a ceremony known as soul retrieval. The practitioner, with the help of spirit allies, locates, calls back, and returns the soul essences.
The actual ceremony may vary by culture, but the action and effect is the same.
I have seen very profound changes in people after a soul retrieval ceremony. I have personally experienced significant healing from soul retrieval.
I love this practice so much, I have made it one of my specialties.