When we suffer severe trauma we are not able to fully mentally process what it is that has happened to us and the trauma becomes mentally entrenched – in other words, what happened to us becomes locked or ‘stuck’ in our memory network. The effect of this may include us experiencing various symptoms such as irrational beliefs, painful emotions, anxiety and fears, flashbacks, nightmares and phobias. It may well also cause blocked energy and greatly reduce our self-efficacy.
When we experience events that trigger memories of the trauma, images, sounds, physical sensations and beliefs which echo the original experience of the trauma cause our perception of current events to be distorted.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can unblock this traumatic information and thus allow us to healthily mentally integrate it with our other life experiences and our life story as a whole.
Trauma can occur in the form of SHOCK TRAUMA and DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA. Shock trauma consists of a sudden threat which is overwhelming and/or life threatening – it occurs as a single episode such as a violent attack, rape or a natural disaster. Developmental trauma, on the other hand, refers to a series of events which occur over a period of time. These events GRADUALLY ALTER THE PERSON’S NEUROLOGICAL SYSTEM to the point that it REMAINS IN THE TRAUMATIC STATE. This, in turn, can cause interruption in the child’s long-term psychological growth. Experiences which can lead to developmental trauma include : abandonment by parent, long term separation from parent, an unsafe environment, an unstable environment, neglect, serious illness, physical and/or sexual abuse or betrayal by a care giver.
The effects of developmental trauma include damaging the child’s sense of self. self-esteem, self-definition and self-confidence. Also, the child’s sense of safety and security in the world will be seriously undermined. This makes it far more likely that the individual will experience further trauma in life as an adult as his/her sense of fear and helplessness remain unresolved.
EMDR works by allowing the locked or ‘stuck’ traumatic information to be properly, mentally processed. This leads to the disturbing information becoming psychologically resolved and integrated.
HOW DOES EMDR ACTUALLY WORK?
EMDR is based on the idea that it is our memories which form the basis of our PERCEPTIONS, ATTITUDES and BEHAVIOURS. Because, as we have already established, traumatic memories fail to be properly processed they lead to these perceptions, attitudes and behaviours becoming DISTORTED and DYSFUNCTIONAL. In effect, the trauma is too large and too complex to be properly processed so it remains ‘STUCK’ and DYSFUNCTIONALLY STORED. This often leads to MALADAPTIVE ATTEMPTS TO PROCESS AND RESOLVE THE INFORMATION CONNECTED TO THE TRAUMA SUCH AS FLASHBACKS AND NIGHTMARES (Sharpio, 2001).
When this problem occurs it is EMDR which is being increasingly turned to allow effective processing and mental healing to occur. I will look in more detail at what EMDR involves in later posts.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).