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Trauma and EMDR

Trauma and PTSD

If you’ve gone through a traumatic experience, you may be struggling with upsetting emotions, frightening memories, or a sense of constant danger that you just can’t kick. Or you may feel numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people.  Here are some commonly overlooked sources of emotional trauma:
  • Serious physical injuries
  • Emotional or physical abuse by a parent
  • The sudden death of someone close
  • An auto accident
  • The breakup of a significant relationship
  • A humiliating or deeply disappointing experience
  • The discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition
Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. It’s not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.

A stressful event is most likely to be traumatic if:

  • It happened unexpectedly.
  • You were unprepared for it.
  • You felt powerless to prevent it.
  • It happened repeatedly.
  • Someone was intentionally cruel.
  • It happened in childhood.

Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by single-blow, one-time events, such as a horrible accident, a natural disaster, or a violent attack. Trauma can also stem from ongoing, relentless stress, such as living in a conflict-prone family or struggling with cancer.

What is EMDR?

During a traumatic event, intense emotion interferes with our rational ability to process the experience.  Our body goes into survival mode, and the trauma becomes frozen in our right brain / central nervous system.

Recalling the traumatic event may feel as though the person is re-living the trauma all over again.  Unexpectedly the images, smells, sounds, and feelings are triggered in the present moment.  When activated, these memories cause a negative impact on our daily functioning and interfere with the way we see ourselves, our world and how we relate to others. 

EMDR therapy harnesses the power of the right brain where the traumatic memory is stored.  By mindfully tending to the body and its responses, EMDR allows slows down the left brain by focusing directly on the images, sounds, and feelings associated with the trauma.  After processing, the memory is still there, but it no longer interferes with our day-to-day functioning.

After decades of experimentation and research, the American Psychiatric Association, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation all recommend EMDR as the most effective way to treat symptoms of trauma and PTSD.