EMDR is an evidence-based psychotherapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which works with maladaptive encoding and/or incomplete processing of traumatic or disturbing adverse life experiences.
How does EMDR work?
No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes "frozen in time," and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.
EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.
Understanding trauma, in particular relational trauma, and how it impacts individuals is key to facilitating healing.
Trauma-survival is an instinctive, survival based, coping which is helpful at the time of the trauma(s) for survival, but may have created a chronically engaged survival system with reactions and responses which are no longer helpful.
Building stability, understanding our own responses and learning how to build safety and stability are early stages of trauma-healing work.
"Childhood trauma, neglect, and abandonment leave clients with overwhelmingly painful memories and emotions and a compromised nervous system that impairs their capacity to tolerate everyday life, much less trauma-related activation. Unaware that their intense reactions are driven by implicit traumatic memories lodged in the body, they resort to desperate measures to manage the overwhelm: self-harm for quick short-lasting relief, suicidal ideation to restore a sense of control, eating disorders, addictive behavior and substance abuse to numb emotion and alter consciousness. Traditional methods of treating unsafe behavior, whether in hospital, residential, or outpatient settings, cannot address the underlying trauma and have generally been only moderately effective with issues of safety." - Janina Fisher, PhD.
Trauma can be defined as a breach of one’s protective barrier. It can be physical, mental, energetic, or spiritual. The event that caused the trauma passes, but the body still believes it’s under threat. This taxes all of its systems and we begin to experience wide-ranging symptoms and imbalances that can become chronic.
What needs to be understood about trauma is that it’s not the painful experiences we’ve had, it’s the impact that those experiences have had on us. Because trauma increases stress and decreases trust, it not only takes a huge physical and emotional toll, it also deeply affects how we relate to each other.
- Michael Stone
Information about Therapeutic Interventions
Trauma Informed Yoga Therapy
“An essential aspect of recovering from trauma is learning ways to calm down, or self-regulate. For thousands of years, yoga has been offered as a practice that helps one calm the mind and body. More recently, research has shown that yoga practices, including meditation, relaxation, and physical postures, can reduce autonomic sympathetic activation, muscle tension, and blood pressure, improve neuroendocrine and hormonal activity, decrease physical symptoms and emotional distress, and increase quality of life. For these reasons, yoga is a promising treatment or adjunctive therapy for addressing the cognitive, emotional, and physiological symptoms associated with trauma, and PTSD specifically.”
— Emerson, Sharma, Chaudhry & Turner (2009)
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is a combined theory and practice which works with knowledge that Unassimilated somatic responses evoked in trauma involving both arousal and defensive responses are shown to contribute to many PTSD symptoms. Thus, these unprocessed trauma responses are stored in the body (somatically), as well as emotionally and cognitively.
Working in relationship with all three of these trauma impacts is thought to be key to long-term processing, with a foundation of self-regulation and safety-building.
Definition of Trauma:
DSM-IV-TR defines trauma as direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury; threat to one's physical integrity, witnessing an event that involves the above experience, learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death, or injury experienced by a family member or close associate. Memories associated with trauma are implicit, pre-verbal and cannot be recalled, but can be triggered by stimuli from the in vivo environment.
The more frequent a specific pattern of brain neurons is activated, the more permanent the internal representation associated with the pattern becomes.
This causes sensitization in the brain towards the specific neural network. Because of this sensitization, the neural pattern can be activated by decreasingly less external stimuli.
Whole Healing - Beyond Words.
The Neurobiology of Trauma