Saybrook University doctoral student Carolyn Trasko receives grant for dissertation research on link between trauma history and chronic illness

By Saybrook University

Carolyn Trasko - doctoral student in the College of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences

Carolyn Trasko is a doctoral student in the College of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences, and was recently awarded a FERB research grant for dissertation research.

Understanding the connections between cumulative stress and disease is an essential component of integrative medicine.  Carolyn Trasko, doctoral student in Saybrook University’s College of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences, selected this program because it offered her a unique educational opportunity to deepen her knowledge of how mind, body, and spirit impact psychological and medical health.  Twenty-five years as a psychotherapist has provided Carolyn with the clinical opportunity to work with individuals who present with co-morbid behavioral health and medical issues, specifically chronic diseases. Often these individuals share histories of traumatic life events and cumulative stress.  She came to ask herself: Could chronic psychological and physiological stress make these individuals more susceptible to develop chronic illness or diseases, specifically autoimmune diseases?

Over 50 million Americans suffer from autoimmune diseases and 75% of them are women.  Such chronic conditions take an enormous physical, emotional, and financial toll resulting in $100 billion annually in healthcare costs.  Working directly with women who experience these chronic conditions has fueled Carolyn with a deep passion and commitment to identify strategies that could alleviate or even prevent their suffering.  Specific mind-body interventions used for stress management may impact the immune response by reducing systemic inflammation thereby helping the body to improve its ability to self-heal.

Carolyn has noticed that many of these individuals in their therapeutic work have shared anecdotal evidence of the benefits of relaxation breathing, guided imagery, or yoga that helped decrease stress levels.  Could mind-body interventions, specifically relaxation breathing and guided imagery, work by calming the over-activated stress response?  For these techniques to become more widely recognized and recommended within the medical community, there is a need for quantifiable proof that these methods are effective.

With assistance from a Foundation for Education and Research in Biofeedback and Related Sciences (FERB) grant award, Carolyn’s proposed research study will look at the potential clinical implications of specific relaxation techniques.  This study, through the use of a one-time session of training, will measure and compare the biopsychosocial impact of paced diaphragmatic breathing to that of guided imagery, within a sample of adult women who have been diagnosed with Autoimmune Thyroid Diseases.

The study will further include 1) the biological marker of salivary interleukin-1 (IL-1) as a measure of the inflammatory response, 2) the psychophysiological measures of heart rate variability (HRV) and respiration rate, and 3) psychological measures of positive and negative mood states.  Carolyn remarked that these findings could provide support for the promotion of using such mind-body techniques within a medical population. This could result in improved health, wellness, and overall quality of life for those who suffer from these chronic conditions.