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Coalescent Psyche Therapy - Accelerated Trauma Recovery Mandala

This model, purpose designed to meet the therapeutic needs of trauma victim / survivors who exhibit characteristics of complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is also efficient at resolving life difficulties for anyone in a 'crisis' or 'stuck' place in the life journey.

Why do we need another therapy?

An accelerated, multifaceted, response specific therapeutic approach to establishing mindful coalescence within the dissociated psyche of adult dual diagnoses clients who are victim/survivors of severe childhood trauma. ______________________________________________________________

Over the past decade the world health community has witnessed an explosion in knowledge surrounding the understanding of trauma and its multifaceted impact on the  human psyche together with the mind, brain, body connection.  Recent psycho-neurobiological research has demonstrated that trauma can alter the trajectory of the developing brain of young children which can and often does affect the establishment of healthy identity. This might be observed in an adult childhood trauma survivor as compromised physical, emotional, mental, psychological and/or spiritual wellbeing.

Historically, many social workers, counsellors and mental health clinicians have  believed that  trauma has the capacity to profoundly ‘change’ people, and, that post-trauma there may well be the development of a new trauma ‘lens’ or changed world view, i.e., changes deep within the trauma survivor’s belief system affecting cognitions, affect, and behaviour. Some physical therapists have also been aware of the impact of trauma, both present and historical, upon the body and the way the individual lives in their body, i.e. the lack of ownership and connection to the physical aspect of self.

More recently with psycho-neurodevelopmental research into the effects of trauma on the developing brain we are gaining important insights into the impact of trauma not only upon the physical, and the psyche but upon the organization and ‘circuitry’ of the brain.

The developing brain, it seems, is very susceptible to certain specific trauma at certain ‘hot spots’ or particular moments in its development. Developing brain neural pathways trajectory may be altered by such trauma creating a changed ‘template’ for the level of self regulation or homeostasis within the child’s brain.

An adult who sees the world through a ‘trauma lens’ may have difficulty in many areas of life, i.e anxiety, depression, socializing and especially in the parental task of healthy bonding. New research and the consequent awareness that the developing child’s brain will be affected by the level of ‘attunement’ between the child and its primary caregiver validates what therapist already ‘knew’, Bowlby was right! 

Research  now demonstrates that the degree to which the brain, not just the psyche, can be affected by trauma is very profound.  Psycho-neurobiological research demonstrates that, not only, where the child’s basic need for food, nurturance, emotional and physical safety is not consistently met or where there is deliberate emotional or physical abuse, but, even where there is insufficient attunement the child may stop utilizing all the usual ways to attract attention to get their needs met and instead develops adaptive coping mechanisms.  This becomes the information for the ‘life-template’ being laid down in the child’s developing neural pathways. i.e., a toddler who is  expecting to get his/her needs met will cry and crawl to mummy/daddy for soothing knowing  that the caregiver will be there soon and give calming attention.  Whereas, the  child who has learnt that crying and crawling to the ‘caregiver’ may not be beneficial will eventually stop trying to attract support. The child will anxiously adapt itself in order to avoid the painful reality of the situation. One of these adaptation skills is to dissociate. The very same strategy used by some soldiers experiencing combat or some young victims of sexual assault.

Dissociation is a discontinuance of the normal integrative flow of functioning. This discontinuance can involve any part of functioning, i.e. thinking, speaking, experiencing, consciousness, remembering and even identity.  Most commonly, dissociation is exhibited by a trauma victim/survivor who is not wanting to be present to a situation that is fearful, invalidating or threatening.  The child/adult will appear to an observer to be daydreaming, inattentive, tranced, zoning out, or, at a more extreme end of the dissociative continuum, the victim/survivor will be observed to be in a totally different ‘mood’ state, often a polarized alternate ego state, i.e. the compliant child will suddenly appear angry, oppositional and unapproachable as he/she dissociates to protect him/herself, or, the congenial child will suddenly become avoidant, sullen, withdrawn and appear regressed or younger or sometimes calmer and older. This adaptive dissociative way of managing extreme discomfort can become habituated throughout the person’s life.  What was responsive adaptation, an effective self protective avoidance strategy can become a maladaptive automatic response to many uncomfortable and even quite ordinary aspects of life.  A child who dissociates when in discomfort, i.e. fear, anxiety, or after habituation  even boredom, misses out on many psychosocial, relational and educational learning opportunities.  Often strongly dissociative children, although intelligent,  may have very disappointing results and relationships at school. As the child ages the deficits become more obvious and often create confusing incongruities which sabotage the child’s potential. It is now we begin to understand the paradoxical nature of the protective adaptation of dissociation.

‘Ignorance of’  or ‘not knowing’ the details of a difficult situation was an adaptive protective technique that worked in childhood but as the victim/survivor grows into adulthood this habituated strategy and the consequent accumulated social, emotional, and academic losses increasingly creates problems in acquiring healthy levels of ‘knowledge’ which are essential for a healthy, productive life. Knowledge really is power!

The neurological aspect of ‘not knowing’ involves trauma memories which are not accessible.  Unlike usual memory which is available through remembering associated material, unprocessed trauma memory, it appears, is often stored in a ‘state dependent’ way, i.e., the emotional state or level of arousal the individual was in at the time of the trauma. It is the limbic system instead of the usually efficient processing of the hippocampus that was highly activated at the time of the trauma. These unprocessed memories are not known and are not available on demand. The hippocampus together with the higher functioning areas of the brain begin to shut down during overwhelming trauma and the limbic, emotional centre, appears become highly activated receiving the unprocessed information.

To resolve trauma memory it seems it is necessary to externalize the memory, and ‘reprocess’ it within a slightly aroused limbic state but not overly aroused in order to utilize the processing function of the hippocampus.  Once the memory is processed and moved the two inches within the brain the individual experiences a profound shift in cognitions, beliefs, etc.

New research has not only validated the work of many therapists, counselors and mental health professionals but also set new challenges in developing therapeutic interventions which adequately address the complexities of the trauma aftermath paradigm.

Mindful Coalescence Therapy -  Accelerated Trauma Recovery Mandala .

This six stage accelerated trauma recovery therapy draws upon the transformative power of ‘creation’ through art, painting and/or collage. 

The primary aim of Mindful Coalescent Therapy  is to assist trauma recovery through activating both  r and l brain neural circuitry through enhancing inter and intra psyche connections in the NOW concurrently enabling   historical aspects of self and a ‘today’ narrative.  The resultant ‘processing, i.e.,  creating a temporary synthesis of neural circuitry connections, in a similar way that EMDR enables the client to mindfully remain aware of the now and the past simultaneously.  Once trauma material is processed meaning can be attributed, which in turn makes possible an ’integrated working through’ of the past trauma and trauma aftermath adaptation experiences.  This assisted congruent coalescent experience is enabled through providing a  safe, contained, healing space whilst creating a therapeutic window of contained ‘low level’ of  limbic arousal necessary to do trauma reparative work. It promotes representation and externalization using images, colours, textures, shapes and most importantly ‘symbology’.  Informed by trauma theory, attachment theory, learning theory and cutting edge psycho-neurobiological research, in partnership with the medium of ancient mandala it can be experienced individually or in the context of a group.

Accelerated Trauma Recovery Mandala ‘Group’ Therapy

This model, although specifically designed to meet the therapeutic needs of trauma victim/survivors’ who exhibit characteristics of complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is also efficient at resolving life difficulties for anyone in a ‘crisis’ or ‘stuck’ place in the life’s journey.

It is not necessary to be able to draw or paint well or even to like creative work to do successful recovery work.

This ‘life portrait in a circle’ is an innovative variation on well established healing mediums and is symbolic of ‘wholeness’, completeness’, and/or ‘the self’, and  uses  symbology to both contain the six stages of the work and, importantly, also hold the representation of affective, somatic, spiritual and cognitive responses of both past and present.

The edge of the outer circle represents the interface with the outer world and is boundried with another circle and may well be further reinforced with colour, texture, etc., to increase the level of safety inside the circle. There is also an inner circle which represents the internal world of ‘self’.   This circle  may also ‘hold’ the symbols and images of unconscious/dissociated or ‘blocked’  material both historic and present and frequently ‘mirrors’ unconscious parallel processes.

The circles give ‘containment’ enabling a careful balance of ‘arousal and safety’ to enable representation of often very emotionally laden material. The facilitator’s language is trauma theory informed and elicits intra-psyche participation. The ‘whole’ self is validated and encouraged. 

Through the therapist’s ‘facilitation and holding’ and, the safety of the ‘circle containment’ the participant is empowered to be ‘present’ at ‘different levels of ego-awareness’ creating a temporary synthesis or ‘congruent coalescence’ of the whole ‘self’.  This coalescent state enhances the individuals ability to be ‘present’ in the recovery process.

The renewed level of freedom in this temporary coalescent state offers hope to escape from the past negative, self sabotaging beliefs and injunctions.  This window enables the establishment of a new paradigm and a renewed ‘way of being’ in the present. As old self defeating beliefs and practices resolve and dissipate negative injunctions lessen and the victim/survivor is now more able to own her strengths and abilities.

Additional containment techniques are used and taught, and they, too, are informed by trauma theory therapeutic practice and involve grounding, mindfulness and experiencing strength.

The basic 4 stages represented in the accelerated trauma recovery mandala are:  

a)    Identification of the context of the early years, family of origin….What was.

b)    Ownership of past pain…..What happened

c)    Awareness of adaptation: Present positive coping mechanisms. Also, Identification and ownership of internal psyche changes and conflict, habituated adaptive behaviours i.e. paradoxical protective and also self-defeating beliefs and practices…...….what changed.

d)    Future fantasy i.e., establishing new neural pathways and patterns of rehearsal through increased awareness, hope, and anticipation of a future, i.e. daring to dream…..What’s next?

The work is also approached from two perspectives: Inter and intra psyche.

 The Outer ‘seen’ level of self represents the ANP’s which are the more functional roles that are played. The ANP’s are more available to self and others. The ‘less seen’  EP’s, are more hidden and less available to self or others, are the emotional trauma driven experience of self. (Based on structural dissociative theory”.

The work also brings the hidden into awareness and then adds narrative and voice. Right and left brain connections are enhanced through inter and intra psyche connections.

e)    Creating a positive feedback loop.

f)    Establishing a repetitive meditation, mantra or self injunction to use for 60 days after the work has been completed.

Following the session is an important group sharing time.  Each member of the group shares their experience of their processing through displaying their Mandala and ‘talking’ to it. Personal details of the trauma are not shared so as to avoid re-traumatization. The group members give feedback as to how each members work impacts upon them.  They do not judge or interpret each other work.

As an adjunct to the work being done in the therapeutic window a variety of strategies to stimulate both right and left-brain function are used and members are asked to check in with their bodies from time to time to aid mindfulness.

Importantly the group is not a painting class, or art group.  Although the work is often quite ‘stunning’ this group is strongly therapeutic in its character and the primary focus is not about ‘aesthetic beauty’, but about meaning, ‘process’, ‘resolution’ and integration.

The groups can be run in a variety of time frames from an intensive one day experience or for approx. three hour sessions over a number of weeks, ideally not less that five. 

Group members are facilitated to do their own individual intra-psychic therapeutic work initially in a parallel play dynamic. Gradually, as the weeks progress tentative ‘joining’ with other group members increases as participants share their recovery journey.  As a group therapy experience all the benefits of group dynamics are utilized and the experience of feeling ‘connected’ with other trauma victim/survivors is very powerful healing tool. 

Participants do not disclose the details of their trauma within the group, rather, they are encouraged to use their mandala symbology to share their experience of the process with the group.   This is a new and unique therapeutic model strongly based in trauma theory, and informed by current psycho-neurobiological research surrounding the impact of trauma on the developing brain and identity.

Linda I. Bearup 2006.

 A Phenomenological Account Of One Woman’s Therapeutic Mandala Experience.

The room felt electric, surreal. I felt the hair raised on the back of my neck and I felt ‘goose bumps’.  I fleetingly wondered what the most important ingredients of this group had been.  

The childhood of each of the eight group members had been traumatic. All were  victim/survivors of severe and ongoing childhood sexual abuse and had experienced extremely emotionally invalidating family environments.  Courageous women on their own healing journeys’. They now found themselves at the end of an eight week recovery journey.  These women who had weekly shared their own processes with each other, now listened with deep respect  as Venus shared the process of her journey over the last eight weeks.  The moment felt somehow ‘sacred’. As the facilitator of this group I was keenly aware of the power of this  ‘ah ha’, moment. This was that moment of clarity, of synchronicity, when all the dissonant, incongruous understandings and perceptions suddenly connect.  It was very powerful.

The trauma recovery mandala group was in its infancy.  It was an attempt to establish  a safe creative therapy group experience underpinned by some of the key tenants of trauma theory.  It was working! 

Venus, a woman in her late forties, a victim/survivor of ongoing childhood emotional and sexual abuse had entered the accelerated trauma recovery mandala group almost invisible, perhaps trying to be invisible, and now, seven weeks later she had willingly become the centre of attention. Venus was charismatic!   She glowed.  To-day she wore red, bright red, with matching lipstick. Every eye watched her with warmth and acceptance as she held up  her  mandala for the final time to share her process story.

Venus, who had shared with the group that she had spent most of the first two sessions trying to hide in the bathroom because of her high anxiety, had become the group’s inspiration.  

She stated that initially she had felt very uncomfortable looking at her work. She had started her mandala by dividing her circle into discrete sections and then painting the sections in primary colours, except for one section which she had felt to paint bright, electric pink.  The work was ‘naïve’ and wonderful, but Venus  felt uncomfortable about the childlike quality of her work, but, nevertheless chose to allow it to be. She stated repeatedly that she was especially uncomfortable with the electric pink segment of her work. 

Week after week, Venus had added symbolic colours and textures representing both her life and the differing levels of maturity and sophistication of her whole self.  Each part of the work was covered with many layers, except for the electric pink segment which from the very first painting session lay stark and visible.  Venus continued to feel uncomfortable, exposed and vulnerable about this segment, but she also sensed it was somehow very important and she ‘knew’ at a very deep place within her that it needed to remain visible. She found a compromise. With some beautiful purple and jade silk thread she threaded over the pink in such a way as to enhance rather than obliterate the electric pink.

It had been so obvious, initially to all but Venus, that in painting what she ‘felt’ to paint she had created a symbolic representation of her very young self. She had even allowed herself to go with her unconscious felt-sense to represent her intra-psychic ‘hopeful female child’. This was the vulnerability she felt.  The powerful parallel process was almost palpable as Venus meticulously attended to the electric pink segment of her mandala. An honouring of the hurt little girl  of so many years ago.

Through her commitment to herself and her process, Venus created a temporary synthesis of yesterday’s hurt child, today’s mature woman and the ‘eternal hopeful child’ that always hoped, and always believed that there could be a happier future.  We were witnessing a congruent coalescence within Venus which was ‘felt’, as it was  witnessed and shared, by the whole group.

Venus told her story through sharing the symbolism of her magnificent trauma mandala. Her finished work would look equally ‘at home’ in an ancient artifact gallery as it would in Venus’ own bedroom or living room.

I caught the eye of my co-facilitator, her face shined with the light refracting from her tears. We smiled, while standing together in the amazing ‘afterglow’.

We knew.

I quietly checked in with each member of the group. Every member had tears brimming around wide expectant eyes. Tears of empathy, identification, of admiration and absolute privilege to be sharing this special coalescent moment with a fellow traveller.  A new beginning.

Linda I. Bearup 2006.


General workshops and Mindful Coalescent Therapy Professional Training  Workshops are run regularly from Moonyah or if desired, a venue chosen by you.

Level One, Two, Three and Advanced are run twice a year and involve doing three ATR mandalas, learning  important psycho-neurodevelopmental trauma aftermath theory (Perry) together with Trauma Model Theory (Ross & Halpern), watching audiovisual presentations on the impact of trauma in addition to workshopping one’s own mandala in the Advanced workshop. 

Interested?  For more details:   


 Lindy Bearup

Moonyah acknowledges that we work on the land of the Wurundjeri Traditional owners.


"Yesterday is already a dream and tomorrow is only a vision,
but today well lived - makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope"
old Sanskrit proverb.