Trauma & EMDR

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TRAUMA

The word trauma is often used to describe an experience, situation, or series of events that are emotionally painful, distressing, and that overwhelm an individual’s ability to effectively cope.  Following a traumatic event, individuals often feel powerless and report they no longer feel safe in the world.  Trauma can be an isolated situational event, such as a car accident or assault, or it can be chronic such as childhood abuse or neglect, intimate partner violence, exposure to chronic discrimination, urban conditions, or war. Additionally complex is the fact that, so often, the one’s we love are also connected with our pain.

There is a beautiful art to the science of trauma work. Trauma work requires we identify the impact of an event, develop a narrative of that event, and reintegrate the brain and the body as one—so that a client can feel whole again. When we experience a traumatic event, a part of us becomes fragmented and locked in time.  This part of the self holds the trauma and pain associated with the event.  

Splitting off and abandoning these parts is an ingenious and adaptive survival strategy in the moment, but it comes at a very hefty price.  Fragmenting the trauma allows the remainder of our self to move forward with our lives and function in the world. However, we cannot indefinitely suppress the part of the self holding past trauma.  Unresolved trauma leaves us vulnerable to the uninvited activation of trauma-related feelings, body memories, and reactivity that we often poorly understand in the moment. True trauma work involves going back, reclaiming those abandoned parts, and reintegrating them with the person we are today.  It can be a painful process, but is one that taps into our innate capacity to heal from the unimaginable. For the brave at heart, that choose to return to the trauma of their past and embrace the abandoned parts of themselves—they have the opportunity to feel whole and fully embodied.  Additionally complex is the fact that, so often, the one’s we love are also connected with our pain.

EMDR

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing*. Its purpose is to help the brain to process incomplete, painful, and traumatic memories.  When an individual experiences a traumatic event, adaptively, the frontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for controlling advanced cognitive functioning) shuts down and the body goes into fight, flight, or freeze. While this gives us our very best chance at survival when under threat, it also results in our brain and body becoming disconnected.  This can lead to a vast array of traumatic symptoms (e.g., hypervigalence, flashbacks, sleep disturbance, intrusive memories). Additionally, when the brain and body become dis-integrated, it impacts the storage of the trauma memory and, in many cases, one’s ability to access details of the memory.  

Emotionally uncharged events are experienced in a linear way and the memories are stored in a part of the brain known as the hippocampus.  The hippocampus serves as a filing cabinet for the brain. However, traumatic memories are often fragmented and get “stuck,” preventing them from ever reaching the hippocampus.  The dysregulation and triggers we experience following trauma are a product of this memory continually attempting to reach the hippocampus. Through the use of bilateral stimulation (tactile stimulation occurring in a rhythmic right-left pattern), EMDR has the ability to unlock the memory and allow us to process the memory to completion, so that it can be stored appropriately, and without the same emotional charge previously paired with it.  EMDR is not altering the memory, but processing it and storing it in such a way that you regain control of the memory—instead of feeling the memory has power or control over you.

* EMDR sessions are available via telehealth upon request and when clinically appropriate. Additionally, those that wish to schedule EMDR intesnsive sessions, may do so upon request. 

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEMS CAN BE TREATED WITH EMDR?

EMDR can be used to target and treat any negative self-beliefs or symptoms causing distress to an individual. Scientific research has consistently shown EMDR to be the gold standard for treating trauma. In addition to effectively treating complex Posttraumatic Stress, EMDR has been shown to be an effective treatment for:

• Acute stress/PTSD

• Relationship issues

• Performance anxiety

• Disturbing memories

• Anxiety/stress reduction

• Self-esteem issues

• Complex trauma

• Complicated grief

• Emotional issues

10 REASONS TO TRY EMDR

  1. EMDR can improve overall health by moderating stress in your life.
  2. EMDR is therapeutic for all ages — children, teenagers, and adults can experience success.
  3. EMDR can help overcome persistent emotional/mental blocks that talk and cognitive therapies cannot easily address.
  4. EMDR can be cost effective by easing physical and mental health symptoms caused by stress.
  5. EMDR can help you think clearly and live purposefully, as negative thoughts and feelings are reduced and resolved.
  6. EMDR can calm flashbacks and disruptive physical                   symptoms caused by trauma as memories are reprocessed.
  1. EMDR can enhance personal achievement by removing negative blocks which will allow clear and decisive thinking.
  2. EMDR can help you break free from negative thought patterns and behaviors. When you temper the negativity from the past, it can no longer distort your present or your future.
  3. EMDR can help you become more resilient by increasing your ability to tolerate negative experiences and to recover more quickly  after upsetting events.
  4. EMDR can help you reclaim your personal power by allowing you to use your body’s own natural healing processes and to learn and grow from your experiences.

For people who have been traumatized through child abuse, incest, war, political torture, or police brutality, it might never be possible to find a reliable witness, someone who was there who can tell you what happened, who can identify the perpetrator. You may never know who hurt you, why they hurt you, or even exactly how they hurt you. You may never be able to remember the actual moments when [your psychological] house was stolen, when the physical structure that housed your spirit was moved, taken, went missing…Trauma work helps build a new house—one that no one can ever take away since it is inside of us, built molecule by molecule from the inside out. [In working with a trauma expert, you will find a witness and someone capable of walking you through the memories,] toward awareness and wholeness.

Becky Thompson, Ph.D.

Author and Activist