Kala Johnson, MA, LPC
When we hear the word trauma often images of horrific car accidents, weather related disaster, death of a loved one, or other catastrophic tragedies come to mind. Because we all have our own experiences and worldviews, trauma in today’s language is very personal. It is interesting to note that the original Greek derivative for trauma means wound.
A newer, more robust definition of trauma is defined as anything less than nurturing. Two categories of trauma are spoken of today in the psychological world: Trauma with a capital “T,” defined as the large, catastrophic type injury that is a one-time event with long-lasting consequences the effects of which can cause, among other things, post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. On the other hand, trauma with a lower case or little “t” is more specific to daily exposure to events that exceed our capacity to cope and cause a disruption in emotional functioning. These distressing events may or may not be life-threatening, but perhaps better described as emotionally-threatening due to the individual being left feeling helplessness. Some examples of small ‘t’ traumas include:
· Conflict with significant others or children· Emotional/verbal neglect/abuse experienced as a child or adult
· Abrupt or extended relocation/move
· Planning a wedding
· Starting a new job
· Having or adopting a child
· Legal trouble
· Financial worries or difficulty
· Panic attacks
· Social anxiety
When disturbing experiences happen, they are stored in the brain with all the sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings that accompany it. When a person is very upset, the brain seems to be unable to process the experience as it would normally. Therefore, the negative thoughts and feelings of the traumatic event are "trapped" in the brain stem. Since the brain stem cannot process these emotions, the experience and/or its accompanying feelings are often suppressed from everyday life. However, the distress lives on in the nervous system where it causes disturbances in the emotional functioning of the person. As a result, therapy to aid these types of Trauma and trauma can be difficult. However, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy is proving to be beneficial.
EMDR therapy does two very important things. First, it unlocks the negative memories and emotions stored in the brain stem and moves them to the part of the brain that cane make sense of the memories, and second, it helps the brain to successfully process the experience. The therapist works gently with the client, guiding him or her to revisit the negative beliefs and images associated with the distress. When the memory is brought to mind, the feelings are re-experienced in a new way. EMDR makes it possible to gain the self-knowledge and perspective that will enable the client to choose their actions, rather than feeling powerless over their re-actions. This process can be complex if there are many experiences connected to the negative feelings. The EMDR therapy sessions continue until the traumatic memories and emotions are relieved.
EMDR sessions work amazingly fast. Processing even the most difficult memories can be achieved in a fraction of the time it would have taken with traditional therapy.Traditional therapies often focus on memories from the unconscious mind, and then analyze their meaning to gain insight into the problem. EMDR clients also acquire valuable insights during therapy, but EMDR can short-cut the process and go right to the releasing stage.
The positive, long-term results of EMDR therapy affect all levels of the client's well-being: mental, emotional and physical, so that their responses return to normalcy and health. Studies consistently show that treatment with EMDR result in elimination distressful emotions and triggers. The memory remains but the negative experiences associated neutralize.