Mindfulness is more powerful
when combined with an
understanding of trauma.

David-About-pic-1

David Treleaven, PhD, is a writer and educator working at the intersection of mindfulness and trauma. He is the author of the acclaimed new book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness (W. W. Norton), and founder of the Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness (TSM) Community — a group committed to setting a standard of care within mindfulness-based practices, interventions, and programs.

Through workshops, keynotes, podcasts, and online education, David focuses on offering mindfulness providers with the knowledge and tools they require to meet the needs of those struggling with trauma. He is passionate about connecting his audience with on-the-ground experts, and is closely engaged with current empirical research to inform best practices.

Members of the TSM Community receive free access to David’s monthly podcast focused on mindfulness and trauma, and informative, downloadable resources to support making their mindfulness practice trauma-sensitive.

David's Story

I approached the topic of mindfulness meditation and trauma as an academic, but also as someone who wanted to understand what happened to me one night in 2006.

I was on a silent meditation retreat in Massachusetts and felt something akin to a circuit breaker going off in my body. I’d been practicing mindfulness for years, and trusted that like every other experience I’d had in meditation, this too would pass.

It didn’t. At least, not entirely. In the coming days on retreat, the world became a murky, subterranean place. My senses became muted and muffled, my appetite vanished, and I was being bombarded by intrusive images and thoughts.

When I’d meet with one of the teachers and explain what was happening, I’d also leave with similar set of instructions: be mindful. Trust the process. Don’t give up. And for the time remaining on the retreat, that’s exactly what I did.

My senses became muted and muffled, my appetite vanished, and I was being bombarded by intrusive images and thoughts.

When I returned home that summer, my friends and family members’ faces revealed what I already knew: the meditation retreat had left me worse for wear. I was disoriented, numb, and having difficulty returning to my everyday life. At the same time, I still loved mindfulness and meditation. My practice had helped me become more aware of my body, less identified with turbulent thoughts, and happier and more content than I’d ever been. When I tried to unpack my experience with colleagues, I was surprised to hear them use the word trauma—a term I’d studied as a psychotherapist but never associated with my own life. But after starting personal work with a trauma professional, the symptoms I’d been having began to make sense: I learned I was experiencing vicarious, or secondary, trauma after years of therapeutic work. I’d been continually exposed to stories of violence that had become traumatizing, and my symptoms had shown up on retreat.

I quickly learned I wasn’t alone. After a grainy video of my 2012 dissertation defense began circulating online I started hearing from people who’d had similar challenging experiences in meditation.

Galvanized, I began to explore the relationship between
mindfulness and trauma. I began talking to mindfulness
educators, mental-health professionals, and trauma survivors, eventually writing a dissertation on the topic. With appreciation for what  mindfulness could offer, I also started speaking more publicly about the experience I’d had.

I quickly learned I wasn’t alone. After a grainy video of my 2012 dissertation defense began circulating online I started hearing from people who’d had similar challenging experiences in meditation.

With each email, I grew more concerned. Given the high prevalence of trauma and the soaring popularity of mindfulness, it was likely that there were others out there who were struggling—potentially beneath the radar of people teaching mindfulness. I knew there were mindfulness teachers trained in trauma, but others weren’t, and I wondered if they could recognize the signs of trauma and know when to refer to a trauma professional.

This is why I wrote Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness — to help teachers and practitioners offer mindfulness practices in a safe, effective, trauma sensitive way.

David Treleaven, PhD, is an acclaimed author, educator, and trauma professional whose work focuses on the intersection of mindfulness and trauma. Utilizing contemporary research to inform best practices, David has offered workshops on trauma-sensitive mindfulness at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, as well as keynote speeches at the Omega Institute in New York and the Institute for Mindfulness in South Africa in Johannesburg. Trained in counseling psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, he received his doctorate in psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies and is currently a visiting scholar at Brown University.

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