Trauma is often described as a normal response to an abnormal situation. It is a natural emotional response to an extremely negative event or experience; usually an event that was inescapable or outside of our control. Trauma typically results in disturbance. For example, if you were in a car accident, you may feel anxiety, fear or like you're re-living it for days after it's over. The problem is when you get stuck in this disturbing state and it impairs your capacity to function and enjoy life.
A horrific or terrifying situation overwhelms the nervous system and the brain doesn't process or store the memory in the same way. Later, when something reminds you of the event, whether consciously or unconsciously, you are "triggered" and have intense stress reactions. The classic example is the ex-soldier who, long after the war is over, instinctively hits the ground when a car backfires.
But it doesn't take a war to cause trauma. "Smaller" traumas, like being humiliated, can also leave their mark. For example, a child who was repeatedly excluded by peers may develop a fear of rejection and negative beliefs about self and others. These thoughts and feelings may persist and generalize, affecting behaviour and contributing to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
An event that traumatizes one person may not be traumatizing for someone else and what traumatizes a child may not affect an adult. Symptoms of trauma also vary and may show up days, months or even years after the event. Symptoms may include:
EMDR therapy was developed by Dr Francine Shapiro, who founded the EMDR Institute in 1990. EMDR was found to be effective in over 30 randomized studies of people who have experienced trauma. An additional 25 studies have demonstrated positive effects for the eye movement component used in EMDR therapy.
PTSD may result after exposure to a deeply disturbing event, such as death or the threat of death or an actual/threatened serious injury or violence. People in jobs that involve exposure to traumatizing events, such as first responders, social workers and military personnel, can also develop PTSD.
C-PTSD may develop after prolonged, repeated traumatizing events that cause harm. The events usually happen within a particular timeframe or in a specific relationship or setting and the effects accumulate over time. For example, people who were chronically abused or neglected as children may develop
Developmental trauma forms during a child’s first three years of life. It results from abuse, neglect and/or abandonment and interferes with the child's brain development. It also disrupts the child's ability to attach to an adult caregiver. Attachment injuries can make it difficult to develop healthy relationships later in life.
EMDR targets the memories of traumatizing or stressful events that are contributing to the problems you face in the present. EMDR provides a safe and structured way to activate these "stuck" memories and release the brain's ability to re-process them successfully. Through the process, the brain accesses "adaptive information," such as an awareness of your strengths, supports and inner resources, that enable you to shift your perspective going forward.
After preparing you safely for the experience, the therapist asks you a structured set of questions and administers bilateral stimulation. This might take the form of moving your eyes from left to right or tapping on the sides of your knees. The alternating sensations help to stimulate and integrate information from both sides of the brain. The bilateral stimulation in EMDR replicates the brain's natural processing mechanism used in REM sleep (when your eyes move from left to right under your eyelids).
In EMDR therapy, you are alert, awake and in control throughout the process. It's not about "re-living" the memory but "re-processing" it in a safe and structured way. The goal is to eliminate or reduce the painful intensity of the memory. It won't erase the memory. More like a scar on an old would, you'll remember what happened but it won't hurt anymore.
EMDR has been proven to work in multiple research studies. It has been shown to reduce or eliminate symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and other conditions.
EMDR is recognized as an effective treatment by the World Health Organization, the American Psychiatric Association, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other international agencies. For more information, see www.emdr.com
To learn more about EMDR therapy, please contact me. I offer a free 30-minute consultation where we can discuss if EMDR is a fit for you.
Check out this great video produced by the National Center for PTSD with MUSA Productions
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