Expert on trauma, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk describes trauma as, “a situation characterized by the inability to take the actions necessary to protect yourself. Trauma is about being in a state where you feel that nothing you do can stop what’s happening to you.”
While no one can get through life unscathed by trauma, there are some events that linger and cause a disruption in our ability to function effectively. Post traumatic stress disorder – also known as PTSD – is a mental health response that may occur in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. PTSD occurs in all people regardless of age, race, nationality or culture.
It is a common myth that you must be a combat veteran or refugee to have experienced trauma. However, PTSD and trauma are much more common than we think. 1 in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime and women are twice as likely to experience PTSD than men. While PTSD sometimes develops after a single life event, it can also occur in response to a reoccurring event such as a challenging childhood, or abusive relationship. It’s important to note that traumatic experiences can happen to us without meeting criteria for PTSD. This does not mean your trauma is lesser than or easier to carry.
What are the Symptoms of PTSD?
It’s common to experience intense emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, powerlessness and a detachment from the people you love. You may notice an increase in risky behaviors and a sense of hopelessness about the future. Many people who experience PTSD also relive the event through flashbacks and nightmares. It may feel difficult to connect to feelings in your body, and you may feel like you are constantly on guard, waiting for something bad to happen. It is also common to start avoiding people and situations that remind you of the traumatic event. We can also experience secondary or vicarious trauma by indirectly experiencing aversive details of trauma. This often happens in work places where you are repeatedly exposed to the traumatic impacts of others (therapists, nurses, doctors, lawyers, etc.).
How Can Treatment Help?
Through trauma therapy, you can experience a reduction in anxiety, increased self-worth, and feelings of empowerment instead of powerlessness. We will work on techniques to manage distress, identify emotional and physical triggers, and empower you to move forward at a pace that feels right for you. As emerging research suggests, you do not have to re-experience trauma to heal from it. I also incorporate a mind-body awareness approach that helps you respond to sensations in your body. This increased understanding of your body can help you differentiate between a current threat and past trauma. Treatment of PTSD and trauma has the added benefit of potentially healing physical symptoms and increasing your immune system as your body heals.
What is EMDR Therapy?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an integrative psychotherapy approach composed of 8 phases or protocols of treatment. EMDR has been extensively researched since the 1990’s and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from different treatment approaches.
How does EMDR work?
EMDR therapy uses a technique called bilateral stimulation to repeatedly activate opposite sides of the brain. Therapists often use eye movements to facilitate the bilateral stimulation but can also use other tools like self tapping. These eye movements mimic the period of sleep referred to as rapid eye movement or REM sleep, and this portion of sleep is frequently considered to be the time when the mind processes the recent events in the person’s life.
The World Health Organization (2013) Defines EMDR as: a therapy based on the idea that negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors are the result of unprocessed memories. The treatment involves standardized procedures that include focusing simultaneously on (a) spontaneous associations of traumatic images, thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations and (b) bilateral stimulation that is most commonly in the form of repeated eye movements. Like CBT with a trauma focus, EMDR aims to reduce subjective distress and strengthen adaptive beliefs related to the traumatic event. Unlike CBT with a trauma focus, EMDR does not involve (a) detailed descriptions of the event, (b) direct challenging of beliefs, (c) extended exposure, or (d) homework.
EMDR seems to help the brain reprocess the trapped memories is such a way that normal information processing is resumed. Therapists often use EMDR to help clients uncover and process beliefs that developed as the result of relational traumas, or childhood abuse and/or neglect.
What does EMDR help?
EMDR had been originally established as helpful for PTSD, although it’s been proven useful for treatment in the following conditions:
- Panic Attacks
- Complicated Grief
- Dissociative Orders
- Disturbing Memories
- Pain Disorders
- Anxiety Disorders
- Stress Reduction
- Sexual and/or Physical Abuse
- Body Dysmorphic Disorders
- Personality Disorders
None of the above symptoms or experiences fit you?
Do you experience distressing emotions that appear to you, and perhaps to others, to be excessive given the current situation? Do you tend to be highly reactive to certain triggers? Is there one or more dysfunctional belief that you believe about yourself that on an intellectual level you know is not true?
If so, you may still be a good candidate for EMDR therapy.
Contact me today for a free phone consultation to see if EMDR might help you release what no longer serves you.