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Healing and learning from our Trauma with shamanic practice

This article is based on a video I made which can be accessed via FB at Ruth Cato or the You Tube channel of the same name.

Trauma is formed in our minds and bodies from experiences that have been physically or mentally harmful. Some practitioners use the categories of big 'T' and little 't' trauma to illustrate that not all trauma is equal. It is important to note that it does not have to be an obviously more dramatic situation that causes worse cases of trauma. Some dramatically painful or shocking situations will not stay stored as trauma it is processed well at the time. Many have pointed out that we are living through a traumatic period in world history. Children are locked away in front of computer screens; many people have not seen their loved ones for over a year and fear of death and illness is rife. But it is important to note that the trauma of the time will only be carried in those who are not able to process it.

- Global trauma: felt for the world

- Ancestral trauma: felt for our lineage

What are some ways a traumatic event could be well processed, so it’s not later experienced as ‘trauma’?

If it is fully felt at the time

Fully expressed

Fully grieved in the moment, we have a better chance of not storing it as trauma.

I’ve noticed with some modalities of counselling and therapy that it can create a contraction or freeze in the client. You talk for years and year over the same subject and it doesn’t actually get it out of the system. In fact it can cement it there with reliving/ talking it through many times, and if it is accompanied with the feeling of judgment then it’s stuck. There is the therapist/ counsellors view that we never let go completely of our baggage or trauma but we just lessen the load. That is not my experience of shamanic healing. We keep the teachings of that trauma but completely let go of the trauma itself. We are going for expansion not contraction. Expansion lets it go. Contraction holds it tight. I have a lot of clients come who have experienced years of talking therapies and they have more movement in one shamanic session that they have in years of talking therapy. That said it is helpful to do some talking therapy to get you to the place of being ready to release.

Shamanic Perspectives of Trauma: Soul Loss/ Soul retrieval

Shamanic work fits with the idea of trauma when we think about soul loss. In shamanic practise we see the soul as our essence and life force. It animates us. When we see soul loss there is a lost look in someone’s eyes. The soul has been shocked out of its shell at some point and not returned. This fits well with the idea that trauma affects everyone differently because one person may have a very well built shell that holds their soul, great boundaries. Whereas another person may have a more fluid and permeable shell that does not hold them so well.

Soul loss happens when a part of our essence/ soul splits off from us in times of shock or when something is just too much for us to deal with in the moment. The responses we go through in those ‘too much’ moments can be freeze, fight or flight, all of which are working with an element. Freeze being frozen water (emotion), Fight being excess or misdirected anger (fire) and flight being misdirected action (air). Working with these elements will help us heal the soul loss.

One way of defining who a shaman is by saying they are ‘one who sees in the dark’. This is the darkness shamanic work can be done in, the shadow aspects of ourselves that we go into to find those lost parts and re integrate.

The elements

Shamanism works with the elements of earth, air, fire, water and spirit. These help us connect into the body of the client as well as into the other realms that are affecting the client. There we can see which element is stuck or frozen and needs to be helped to flow. We can also observe and help the element that will allow the shock to move away and heal.

Moving the trauma/ shock away or helping the body and emotion to flow again unsticks us, then welcoming back the soul piece brings us back to our wholeness again.

Our bodies are wise. They know they need to protect us, so they put these things into place. Animal’s freeze to not draw attention to themselves and to play dead, it keeps them safe. Freezing is mother ice wrapping her arms around you to hold you and protect you until that young vulnerable one has the energy and wisdom to melt it and re awaken. All illness is simply our body not being guided back to a place of safety after it’s perceived a threat and fought it.

Need to ‘be with it’. Need to be with the feeling or the shadow or whatever it is we are running away from to help integrate it. Breath can lengthen and release. If breath becomes shallow it is freezing the system. There may be multiple things going on.

When the body is in freeze it can’t breath. Need to go into ice, need to face the fear. Bring about more contraction until the release happens. Trauma releases then. Never force or push as the body knows. Hold it safe. Allow. Whatever was stuck and unable to be expressed will then be expressed. How do we honour the freeze, thank it for it’s protection.

Trauma is showing up in places that healing can happen. So where does it show up for you? Relationships? Sexuality? Movement? These are the places to go for the healing. Bringing in the strong energies to be able to get enough capacity in the body to melt.

Different layers of global trauma:

- Black lives matter

- Gender

- Sexuality

Collective pieces showing up for us to move through.

Step 1:

Which part of you feels victimised? Recognising it and honouring it. The victim needs to be heard. But that is only the first step. To bring back the swing of imbalance. THEN we start to integrate the other polarity – when we’ve moved past the victim space.

Embody the other polarity to feel it (not live it, but to feel it) otherwise we outsource it and end up with someone who does it for us.

Whenever we fracture inside we mirror that outside of ourselves.

Step 2 can be labelled as spiritual by passing/ victim blaming (which is a real thing and can actually happen) AND this needs to be stepped into to feel the polarity and step into their power. Need to access the fire before you melt the ice. Rage.


Frozen. Depression.

Fire. Rage. Dance it, shout it.

Water will then melt from the ice. Emotion flows. Cry, feel it.

Notice what it can water, earth it plant it. Resting in the earth womb. Being nourished there.

Don’t loop through one, or we can feel catharsis but re traumatise.

Processes just begin to shift once you’ve gone right through the layers of it right to the bottom. Kundalini can then rise and flow and feel healthily.

Ruth Cato works as a Shamanic Practitioner both online and in person in Herefordshire. On-line courses include ‘Where are your Boundaries?’, ‘Sacred Cycles’ and ‘Shamanic School’.

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