Brain Science and Updates From the Field

Inventive exercises help shake off effects of trauma

Monday, February 09, 2015

The word “trauma” is rooted in a Greek word meaning injury—damage to the body that triggers a natural response that regulates conditions to remain stable and constant.

Now, an inventive method of relieving the effects of trauma has shed light on the body’s natural healing abilities that are activated when releasing stress through physical exercises.

Trauma Releasing Exercises, or TRE ®, is a series of deep muscle movements that assist in ridding the body of stress, tension and trauma. The movements help people to return to a state of balance by encouraging shaking and vibrating.

Kevin Berceli, a therapist at Stairways’ Meadville Outpatient Clinic whose uncle, Dr. David Berceli developed the exercises during his work as an international trauma expert, is a certified TRE® practitioner.

Berceli is also owner of Counterpoise Solutions, LLC, which offers TRE® instruction and trauma education services.

As a way to supplement therapy, Berceli has incorporated TRE® exercises into his work with clients and has recently given demonstrations to Stairways employees and staff.

David Berceli developed TRE® after observing the responses of different traumatized communities while working primarily in Africa and the Middle East.

During mission trips, David Berceli witnessed the reaction of eight people who hailed from six different countries during a bombing in Lebanon in the 1980s, as well as observed natives during an air raid in Africa years later.

What he found among everyone subjected to a traumatic experience, though, was one shared behavior: shaking. To his discovery, many of the people presented with a trauma balled up and began rocking back and forth.

“So it wasn’t so much of a cultural response as it was a human response,” Kevin Berceli said.

The quivering response was more evident in children, it seemed, while adults, were more reserved and restrained in their reaction. To Berceli, this suggested that adults were conditioned to repress their natural response as a way to appear more confident and in control, instead of letting the body’s built-in system trigger.

“As we get older, we often suppress our natural healing response to stress and trauma,” Kevin Berceli said. “Children actually use the natural response more than adults, who deny it out of fear and shame.”

Based on the universal reactions he observed, David Berceli theorized that stress and trauma tends to cause muscles to tighten and become tense. TRE® exercises invoke a self-controlled muscular shaking process called neurogenic muscle tremors as a way to relax muscles and promote healing.

David Berceli has conducted studies and published research on the effectiveness of TRE®, which has reported particular success with veterans suffering from post-traumatic symptoms. In 2011, TRE® gained a level 3 status from the Defense Centers of Excellence, a military organization dedicated to veterans suffering psychological and traumatic brain injuries.

In using TRE® with clients, Kevin Berceli has noticed pronounced improvements in many cases.

“(TRE®) has been wildly successful,” he said. “People with some pretty severe anxiety have responded well to it and have felt calmer after taking part.

“I always give clients an option of whether to use it, but those who use the technique consistently seem to benefit from it.”

Having begun TRE a decade ago and achieved certification in 2013, Berceli said his TRE® work with Stairways has expanded to performing exercises with staff during lunch breaks. Berceli said TRE is even being incorporated into yoga classes and corporate wellness programs.

Learning TRE® from a certified teacher is a safe and effective way to reduce stress for most people, Berceli said.

“Anyone can pick up a book and do TRE® on their own, but, as we all have various exposure to stress and trauma in our lives, the safest way is to learn from a certified TRE provider,” he said.

To learn more about TRE® and trauma treatment, visit Counterpoise Solution’s at or

Finding A Better Balance

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Stairways program on cutting edge of biofeedback technology

An ACT team staff member uses an interactive computer game associated with the HeartMath InnerBalance application.

Math has long been the source of aggravation for countless individuals. However, thanks to an innovative and interactive biofeedback smartphone application, Stairways’ Assertive Community Treatment team (ACT) is using math to reduce stress.

Since February, the ACT team has been utilizing HeartMath Inner Balance, an iPhone app that seeks to reduce tension by improving one’s heart rate and breathing.

ACT has integrated the tool’s use in its work with clients as well as staff members, ACT physician Jennifer Pasternack, Ph.D, said.

“We’re using it for ourselves for stress,” she said. “Our clients are also using them for stress but it’s good for many of them who have had trauma as well.”

InnerBalance works by using an earlobe-clip that monitors one’s heart rate variability (HRV) — the changes in one’s heart rhythm that often reflect their present emotions. The HRV is then visually represented onscreen as a flowing wave, while the user is encouraged to breath in a slower, calmer manner by following along with a breath-pacing tool.

Sam Trychin, Ph.D., an Erie psychologist and consultant to Stairways Behavioral Health, introduced InnerBalance to Stairways after he had used the tool for more than five years, he said.

“Psychology influences physiology,” Trychin said. “And the inverse is true. Changing your breathing along with greater thoughts of appreciation can have a direct impact on your heart rate that you are able to see on the spot.”

Calmer, deeper breathing along with more appreciative feelings, Trychin says, results in fewer drastic fluctuations on the HRV meter. As this improved balance is achieved, “coherence”— the relationship between your HRV and a relaxed emotional state — increases as well, which, in turn, reduces the psychological and physiological symptoms of stress.

InnerBalance has yielded positive results for people suffering from mental illness as well as physical pain. For example, Veterans Affairs medical centers across the country have introduced the tool to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

At Stairways, Bernadette Valentinetti, a mental health professional in ACT, said she likes to incorporate the app into therapy as a way to visually show clients how their stress and heart rate directly correlate. With some clients, Valentinetti makes use of InnerBalance computer games that sync with breathing and heart rate variability to simulate adventure settings, such as being in a tropical garden or on a rainbow.

“I have a client that has a lot of anxiety and this is one way for her to regulate that,” Valentinetti said. “It’s a way for them to increase coherence without having to think of it as a deep-breathing exercise.”

ACT’s use of InnerBalance hasn’t been just limited to therapy with clients, however. The team’s staff also uses it immediately before meetings as a means to increase coherence and mitigate stress.

“It fits in well with our philosophy in that there’s not much of a difference between us and our clients,” she said. “Coping mechanisms are coping mechanisms and we all have stress whether we have a mental disorder or not.”

Pasternack, who initiated the app’s use after beginning to use it herself in December, said she has seen a difference in her own life.

“I feel I’m much calmer and more able to handle stress when it does arise,” she said.

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