A significant part of my practice has its focus on helping clients to process psychological trauma, that is, having witnessed or being exposed to one or several disturbing, violent, or horrifying events. The more traumatic or out-of-the-normal context of living an event is, the greater its impact and the urge to deny its impact. It is like fighting an internal war between the will to deny horrifying events and the will to talk about them.
When we witness or are exposed to any kind of disturbing event, our brain activates all of our necessary internal defenses ~ fight, flight, or freeze responses ~ to protect the wounds inflicted upon us as a means for survival. Our attempts to numb the physical, emotional, and intellectual responses to whatever terrifying experience we have had are natural to our very being.
The degree of self-protection is equal to the severity of the wound itself. However, the protective shields we utilized when the trauma happened can, over time, transform into destructive coping skills, which are keeping us trapped in painful and harmful emotional, cognitive, somatic, and behavioral patterns, instead of helping us to heal the trauma and free us from the unwanted internal imprisonment.
Not uncommonly, one moment can become "frozen in time," and remembering what happened can feel as bad as it did when the event occurred, because the images, thoughts, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. Memories like that have a lasting negative effect that may interfere with the way we see ourselves, the world and the way we relate to other people.
In my practice, my primary focus is to help clients to heal from any kind of disturbing events. To that aid, I use different trauma therapy methods, one of which is EMDR.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) was developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro in the late 1980’s. More specifically, in 1987, when Dr. Shapiro was walking in a park, thinking about her own distressing memories, she discovered that when she moved her eyes rapidly back and forth, her disturbing thoughts disappeared, and when she brought the same thoughts back to mind, they had lost their negative charge. She assumed that eye movements had a desensitizing effect, and as she experimented with this, she found that others also had the same response to eye movements. Her work developed, other treatment elements were added, and she developed a standard procedure, which is now known as EMDR.
As a result of her work, over 70,000 clinicians have treated millions of people all over the world during the past 20 years. Since 1990, EMDR as a method for treating post-traumatic stress (PTSD) has been thoroughly researched. Over time, EMDR has been adapted for use beyond single trauma, complex childhood trauma and PTSD, to treat: sexual assault victims, crime victims, medical-related trauma, eating disorders, phobias, panic attacks, generalized anxiety, depression, addictions, grief, and dissociative disorders.
TRAUMATIC MEMORIES AND EMDR
Although it is not exactly known how any form of psychotherapy works neuro-biologically in the brain, we know that when we experience a trauma, our brain cannot process information as it usually does. The trauma-moment can become "frozen in time," and remembering what happened can feel as bad as it did going through it the first time, because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. The “trauma-memory-networks” seem to “cut off” all communication with “adaptive-information-networks.” Further, the trauma-memory can get triggered by any kind of related or associated experience, sounds, or scents, and has the potential to make you feel as powerless or upset as you did when the original trauma happened. It’s like “the bridge” between the only island and the mainland has been torn down, and you feel stuck at a place from which there is “no escape.”
Eye movements (or other bi-lateral stimulation) appears to “build the necessary bridge” between the right hemisphere of the brain where the trauma memory is stored, over to the left hemisphere, which stores important thoughts and awareness needed to relieve the distress. It is like pieces of a puzzle coming together into a complete picture. You still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting, it is “just a memory.”
"Getting Past Your Past" is the name of Dr. Francine Shapiro's new book, which was published on February 27, 2012. Anyone who seeks to understand more about how past disturbing experiences can carry over to the present, influence the way we perceive the world and ourselves, our ability to handle distress and disrupt our human potential, and are curious about how EMDR therapy works - this book is for you!
In his book, “The Instinct to Heal,” David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D. wrote:” … The thrust of EMDR is to evoke the traumatic memory in all of its components-visual, emotional, cognitive, and, most of all, physical (the echo of the memory in the body), and to then ask the patient to simply follow the hand of the therapist moving rapidly back and forth in front of his or her face in order to induce the appropriate eye movements. This process then stimulates the inborn “adaptive information-processing system” that has not been successful in metabolizing the dysfunctional memory by itself.” (p. 81, Electronic book version)
The EMDR Institute website contains a lot of information about EMDR, which may also be of interest to you.
The EMDR International Association, EMDRIA is a membership organization of licensed mental health professionals, dedicated to the highest standards of excellence and integrity in EMDR. I am a member of the association.
ISSTD (International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation) is an international, non-profit, professional association organized to develop and promote comprehensive, clinically effective and empirically based resources and responses to trauma and dissociation and to address its relevance to other theoretical constructs. I am a member of ISSTD, and also of The EMDR Therapist Network.
March 20, 2012