An interview with Dr. Aimie on the biology of trauma

An interview with Dr. Aimie on the biology of trauma

The Apollo community is a diverse community who all share a common belief – that the human body is powerful and we have the capacity to heal. We'll highlight powerful stories from Apollo users and their causes through a series of member features. This month’s feature is Dr. Aimie Apigian.

If there’s one thing Dr. Apigian and the team at Apollo Neuro have in common, it’s the belief in the power of the nervous system. Dr. Aimie Apigian, MD, MS, MPH is a double board-certified preventive and addiction medicine physician. She specializes in addressing the chronic effects of trauma in the body and rewiring the nervous system for parasympathetic states. We initially built a relationship through her virtual summit, Biology of Trauma, through Trauma Healing Accelerated. Read on to learn more about how Dr. Aimie focuses on healing the nervous system to overcome serious cases of trauma.

Q: Can you tell me more about your professional focus on trauma?

A: To understand the biology of trauma, you have to understand it’s two-fold. There are the effects of stored trauma on the nervous system, and there’s the biology that makes people more at-risk to trauma. I sit at the intersection of medicine and the mental health field, and I am drawn to providing patients with knowledge and tools to accelerate the healing process. 

I run online programs and courses, and have a Providers Network and run a Biology of Trauma Certification Course for providers. It is great that in our Providers Network, there are health coaches and providers, and on the mental health side, there are therapists, counselors, and psychologists. What unites us is that we’re focused on biology.

Q: What inspired you to focus your medical training on trauma?

A: I adopted my son from the foster care system when he was four years old. I assumed he would get better with time and love, but that wasn’t the case. I was trying to figure out what he needed in order to get better. He was not responding to the conventional methods that therapy was offering, and I wanted to address the true root cause. 

Given my background in medical training, I thought, wait a second, these are all of my patients. All of my patients have this dysregulation in their nervous system. Rather than sending them to therapy, what are the tools I can bring in for them to address the trauma that is fueling the disease process? How can we heal the nervous system before the disease is developed in the first place?

I sought training in trauma therapies that work with the nervous system. Through my medical training, I was able to see that stress is fueling disease, so I wanted to address the stress component in order to improve the physical manifestations. For some people, therapy can make things worse by bringing big reactions to the surface with tools to balance the dysregulated nervous system. I’m trained in somatic experiencing, instinctual trauma response model, art model therapy, and incorporated family systems and parts work. I incorporate these trainings into my work. 

Q: How do you define trauma?

A: When I refer to trauma, it’s anything that overwhelms the nervous system and its ability to stay regulated. Experiencing stress is normal - there’s a period of stress and then the nervous system should return to the prior state if there’s no effect of trauma. Trauma puts the system into overwhelm, numbs us, and disconnects us from ourselves and life in order to survive and push through. 

I do a lot of work on neurodevelopment, and how expressions of trauma during the early stages of life show up later. Attachment is often at the core. Attachment is not just emotional, it is such a chemical process and a regulation of the nervous system that so often can be disrupted.

Q: I know you’ve done a lot of work on attachment trauma. Can you explain more?

A: A newborn needs support from a caregiver to regulate the nervous system, it cannot regulate on its own. When a caregiver is not able to provide that level of attachment, support, and presence, they are not regulating the newborn’s system as much as it needs. Anytime this dynamic shows up, that starts the process of overwhelm, and by definition, that overwhelm is trauma. And let me be clear, this is hardly ever the caregivers decision to not provide support. Neuro development forms those neural pathways - this happens subconsciously and is not immediate, which is why this lingers and shows up much later in life. In working under this focus, I wanted to start healing the nervous system as the root cause of the trauma.

Q: And is this how you came across Apollo?

A: I wanted to know more about the cool things people are doing with the nervous system these days, and a colleague introduced me to Dr. Rabin. He joined my Biology of Trauma summit as a guest speaker. 

When I first heard about the Apollo device, I was skeptical. I was skeptical on how much of an effect it could have on the autonomic nervous system, being a device. Through my background with somatic experience, I know the power of working with the autonomic nervous system rather than the brain, so I understood the power of working with the autonomic nervous system. But how would little vibrations make such a change to the nervous system state?

Well, I ordered one for myself before I spoke with Dr. Rabin and I’ve been using it everyday since. I use it for bed and I use my Oura Ring to track how it’s changed my sleep. I've noticed big improvements in my sleep latency especially. I also use Apollo when I need to dive into creative work - I love Energy and Wake Up and Clear and Focused for this.

Thanks for sharing your work Dr. Aimie! We’re inspired by the progress you’re making in the field of trauma, and honored to have you in the Apollo Neuro community.