What is trauma?
Trauma is a distressing or frightening event that causes us to feel unsafe, helpless, or unable to function or cope normally after the event. Sometimes we can heal from traumatic experiences naturally. However, sometimes, our brain can get ‘stuck’ after a trauma and we continue feeling unsafe for many months or years. Many women hold on to trauma, and it can present in many different ways.
Trauma can look like:
- Death of a loved one
- Early childhood emotional, physical, sexual abuse or neglect
- Abandonment by an attachment figure
- A near death experience
- Sexual assault
- Natural disasters
However, any situation that leaves a person feeling overwhelmed, alone–even if this experience doesn’t involve death or bodily harm–can be traumatic. Trauma is defined by a person’s subjective experience. Other events that may be experienced as traumatic include:
- Childhood bullying
- Loss of a relationship, divorce, or loss of a job
- Diagnosis of a health condition
Some of us who have experienced trauma feel stuck in our lives. Trauma can make it seem impossible to live in the present moment, connect with others, sleep, hope for the future, or like ourselves. When we have experienced trauma, we often spend a lot of energy trying to push away intrusive thoughts, but we still experience unpleasant memories or nightmares. Additionally, we may also spend a lot of energy trying to preemptively anticipate things falling apart, or being hurt or abandoned. EMDR can support you as you process your experience and help you create a life that isn’t limited by the past. To see a video about how EMDR works, click here.
EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It is an evidenced based modality that can help with PTSD, anxiety, depression, phobias, self esteem, and feeling comfortable in our bodies. Francine Shapiro writes, “A substantial amount of research indicates that adverse life experiences may be the basis for a wide range of psychological and physiologic symptoms. EMDR therapy research has shown that processing memories of such experiences results in the rapid amelioration of negative emotions, beliefs, and physical sensations” (from this article).
While doing EMDR, you will learn about trauma’s effect on our brains and bodies, learn relaxation strategies, and process trauma in a safe space. EMDR therapy has 8 stages: History taking, client preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure and reevaluation.
1. History Taking
Together, we will discuss your specific trauma symptoms, as well as what trauma looks like. We will compile a brief, non-detailed list of the traumatic events in your life and how disturbing each event is to you. The point of this history taking is not to re-process trauma–rather, it is to give you an idea of what you may want to work on as you begin treatment and how various traumas may be affecting you.
Before processing your trauma together, we will make sure you feel safe and supported by practicing using tools to ground your body and mind. We will develop a safe place for you to go to in your mind, and practice some exercises to help you relax your body. We will compile resources that feel helpful for you specifically, and we won’t move on to the next stages until you feel ready.
To get started with the re-processing phase, we will learn more about the specific trauma you’d like to work on, negative beliefs you may have about yourself as a result of this trauma, what belief you’d like to have about yourself instead, and how and where you feel disturbance in your body. We will also see if this trauma is linked to past traumas from childhood.
Using what’s called “bilateral, dual attention stimulation,” you will begin to process through the trauma in your body. During online EMDR therapy (for Colorado and Florida residents), you will watch a ball move back and forth across the screen (and/or listen to a sound) as you feel into the sensations in your body. The bilateral stimulation is done in a series of sets that last around 15-30 seconds. After each set of eye movements, you will take a deep breath and say a little about what came up for you during the set. The bilateral stimulation can start to become desensitized to the trauma and store the event as a long term memory that no longer disturbs us.
Once the memory, belief, or sensation is no longer disturbing to you, we will work on ‘installing’ the positive belief you want to have about yourself into your body using the bilateral dual attention stimulation. We will keep letting this belief grow inside of you until it can’t get any bigger.
6. Body Scan
Once you are no longer disturbed by the event and you fully believe the positive belief you’d like to have about yourself, you will scan your body for any lingering discomfort, tension, or uncomfortable sensations. If any discomfort remains, we will process through that until it is gone.
We will complete a ‘mental movie’ and think of a time when you’d like to be able to apply the positive belief in an upcoming situation and process how you’d like to do that. We will discuss how you can manage any thoughts, symptoms or uncomfortable sensations between sessions.
We will check in on how effective the treatment is for you and the next course of action.
If you have questions about EMDR therapy or would like to schedule a free, 20 minute consultation, please reach out.