With news reports of terrorism, wars, sexual violence, and natural disasters, it’s no wonder “trauma” is a word that’s become more prevalent in recent years.
We hear of soldiers coming home from overseas with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD,) or survivors of an earthquake suffering from post-traumatic symptoms.
Surprising Observations About Trauma
However, a trauma is not only one of these events; a traumatic experience is any experience which is related to strong painful emotions. Often, traumas can be deeply personal experiences one would not typically consider disastrous - such as an embarrassment or act of verbal violence - but nonetheless creates extreme emotional discomfort.
Life after trauma can be filled with debilitating anguish and fear for the survivor. Trauma survivors are often plagued with flashbacks and nightmares, constant anxiety, edginess, difficulty sleeping, feelings of guilt and depression, numbness, and more.
Those dealing with trauma find themselves in a state of dissociation, or being outside and removed from themselves. It’s as though they see the world through a lens. Something always feels wrong. Objects, smells, locations, even thoughts related to the traumatic experience can bring up a sense of panic that plays out as though the event were still occurring.
Treatments For Trauma: Introducing EMDR
Though there are multiple treatments for trauma, one method that is particularly effective is known as EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy. The basis of EMDR is unique: it uses a mind-body approach based in the science of trauma and how it imprints in the brain.
A traumatic experience forms a different memory than a pleasant or neutral experience. Chemicals are released in the brain, and the memory remains vivid months or even years later. Trauma victims express feelings of “reliving” the experience: it stays in their mind in full sensory and emotional detail, and triggers can cause the memory to flood back.
They experience “body memories,” or physical symptoms connected to their experience. In example, a sexual abuse victim may feel terror and numbness in his or her limbs when faced with a trigger, such as feeling trapped.
How EMDR Works: A Brief Snapshot - And A Note Of Caution
EMDR uses stimulation of the brain via eye movement to desensitize the survivor to the traumatic memory. Research shows that EMDR effects both hemispheres of the brain, allowing the memory to resolve.
When a trauma resolves, the thought of the experience no longer brings the emotional or body memory with it. The survivor can think of the event without feeling like they are reliving it. The negative self-thoughts attached, such as “I am helpless” or “I deserved it,” are replaced by positive self-affirmations.
A Word Of Caution: Why Getting the Right Therapist Matters
The client and therapist work closely to create a safe environment for processing the trauma, and clear boundaries are set for every step of the journey.
The eye movement creates naturally occurring electrical activity that allows the memory of the trauma to shift. The therapist guides the client through the memory, accompanied by 30-second intervals of eye movement, until the severity of the trauma diminishes and the person can think of the memory without feeling distress, anxiety, or like they are reliving it.
The American Psychological Association suggests EMDR as a highly effective form of treatment for traumatic symptoms. Here at Nassau Guidance, we have capable, compassionate therapists who are trained in EMDR. If you or someone you love is suffering from post-traumatic symptoms, contact us at (516) 221-9494. Help is available.