None of us get very far in life without experiencing some difficulty. Trauma is widely defined as any experience in which a person’s life or well-being is perceived to be threatened, impacting their ability to function afterwards. When a disturbing life event, experience, or situation occurs, our systems respond in the way they are designed to (the fight, flight or freeze nervous system response, for example), but unfortunately we often find ourselves without the necessary support to fully process these experiences out of our systems. When this happens, these traumatic experiences can get “stuck” in the nervous system and the body, linked to any images, sounds, smells, thoughts, feelings and body sensations that are related to it.
Because this experience gets essentially “locked” in your nervous system, and your patterns of responding to the world, it can get triggered by anything that seems like a reminder of the original event – even if, on the surface, it doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with that original experience. This can be the source of a lot of negative feelings and sensations that don’t seem to make sense and feel like they are out of our control. It is important to remember that these are really pieces of the old event, experience, or situation getting triggered. It is in this way that the past ‘sneaks in’ and interfere with our enjoyment of the present moment.
This particular kind of stuck-ness can occur in response to developmental traumas, childhood abuse or neglect (overt or covert), abuse or violence in adulthood (such as domestic violence, sexual assault, car accidents, or war), or environmental disasters (hurricanes, avalanches, fires, etc.).
The good news is, us humans are resilient and capable of healing from the most atrocious of things. We can, with proper support and guidance, tune in to our innate capacity to heal, and help these old experiences process out of our minds, hearts, and bodies, and reclaim our lives in the present moment.
As a trauma-informed therapist, I use an integration of EMDR and Hakomi-based Sensorimotor processing methods, to help you heal from the painful moments in your past. Both of these approaches are integrative, in that they treat the whole person (thoughts, emotions, body, spirit), rather than just addressing thoughts, for example. As a Hakomi somatic therapist, I give special attention to how these traumatic experiences get patterned in the body, and use this as a map to healing. I am happy to share more about this with you at your appointment.
A bit about EMDR …
EMDR stands for ‘Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing.’ It is an integrative approach to therapy that has been found to be highly effective in reducing discomfort and troubling signs/symptoms related to un-integrated life experiences. It is held in the top-tier of treatments for PTSD with the World Health Organization.
EMDR helps you reclaim your present moment by “un-locking” the stuck experience from the brain and from the body, and allowing it to process through to completion – so that it no longer gets triggered, or brings up the old disturbing images, sensations, or thoughts into the present.
While it isn’t fully understood “how” it does this – and there is a lot of exciting research being done around this now – we do know that it works, and it works really well. The research shows that it is highly effective in reducing this type of discomfort in much less time than normal ‘talk therapy’ takes – and works for a wide range of issues, from PTSD related to sexual trauma (rape) and combat trauma, to grief and loss, social and performance anxiety, anxiety and panic attacks, chronic pain, phobias, and depression, to name a few.
The key to all of this is bilateral stimulation (BLS). It was first discovered by tracking eye movements across the mid-line of the body, that allowed more efficient and effective access to the underlying core material that was the source of the discomfort – hence the “Eye Movement” part of the name.
We have since incorporated other methods of BLS, such as tapping and NeuroTek pulsers, which do the same thing – stimulating both sides of the body and brain, to allow access to this stuck core material. One theory as to why BLS works so well is that it replicates our eye movements during REM sleep, which is when our brains do a lot of processing of unconscious and core material. Our brains, like our bodies, are self-healing organisms, and constantly moving towards greater wholeness and healing; so what EMDR does is facilitate and support this natural process. One important thing to keep in mind about all of this is that it is your brain that is doing the healing work, and you are in control. We are just creating the conditions in which it can do what it needs to do.
The work of EMDR is done in 8 phases, which starts with making sure that you are well-resourced and ready to manage your process. After the initial preparation, most EMDR sessions will look something like this: You will bring up a memory, issue, symptom, or situation that you want to work on, and we will identify the thoughts, emotions, and body sensations that are associated with it. This helps stimulate the memory network in your brain where the material is stuck. Then we will begin sets of BLS, and you will just let whatever happens, happen. Some clients have described it as like watching a dream, or a type of free association. I support and guide you through the process, by checking in with you periodically, between “sets” of BLS.
Gradually, as the experience processes through your system, the discomfort and upsetting aspects decrease in intensity and even go away. At this point, we work towards strengthening the positive associations and aspects of the experience in your system.
EMDR does not erase memories, nor does it create material that wasn’t there in the first place; it is NOT hypnotism. You remain aware and in control throughout the sessions. It allows you to re-format your relationship to the experience, so that it can be one that serves you, rather than taking away from your enjoyment of life in the present moment.