Tag Archives: Childhood Trauma Fact Sheet

Mindfulness : A Very Effective Technique for Treating Conditions Related to Childhood Trauma

childhood_trauma_effects

What Is Mindfulness?

 

MINDFULNESS is an exciting technique, its effectiveness supported by much research evidence, which is now becoming very popular as a tool for the treatment of conditions related to childhood trauma, including depression, anxiety, difficulties regulating emotions and borderline personality disorder (BPD). It derives from Buddhist philosophy.

The technique teaches people to improve their coping ability and resilience by concentrating on :

– how they breathe

– observing

– accepting

– adopting a non-judgmental attitude

Individuals are encouraged to just accept and observe their thoughts, their physical sensations (perhaps caused by anxiety) and their emotions as they come and go in the mind.

mindfulness for childhood trauma

The technique emphasizes the importance of just observing these phenomenon in a detached way, stepping back from them, avoiding engaging with them or getting caught up in them. A metaphor for this would be watching leaves on a stream float by.

Mindfulness is also all about being intensely involved in the MOMENT (rather than thinking about the past or future). It is about accepting the moment as it is and being fully involved in it – for example, becoming aware of our breath going in and out, the feel of the temperature on our skin, the feel of the seat we are sitting in, the feel of the clothes against our skin, the colour of the walls – everything, in fact, which is currently impinging upon the senses. By existing in the moment, unconcerned by the past or present, we can just dispassionately, non-judgmentally ‘watch’ our concerns and worries as they pass through our mind.

In this way we can detach ourselves from stressors, and, with practice, we can prevent our previously unhelpful, ‘automatic responses’ to stress. The technique also encourages us, as we simply observe, in a detached manner, thoughts and feelings passing through our minds, to label them. For example, ‘worry’, ‘fear’ etc; the reason for this is explained below:

NEUROLOGICAL EXPLANATIONS ABOUT WHY MINDFULNESS WORKS:

As I have already said, there is a lot of evidence showing MINDFULNESS to be a very effective coping technique. In terms of how the brain works, this has been explained in the following way: – labelling our emotions rather than engaging with them activates the PREFRONTAL CORTEX (an area of the brain) which reduces anxiety – a high level of MINDFULNESS correlates positively with the level of neural activity in the PREFRONTAL CORTEX; this has the effect of dampening down acivity in the AMYGDALA (high activity in the brain area known as the AMYGDALA is associated with intense emotions); in this way, we become much calmer. – the effects of practicing MINDFULNESS, and the subsequent effects on the brain given above, result in us being able to achieve much greater emotional regulation (emotional control).

As well as reducing anxiety, depression and helping us to master our emotions, MINDFULNESS, research has shown, also benefits the immune system, helps people control obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and is also used to help control chronic pain. Furthermore, people who continue to practice mindfulness have been found to have stronger coping skills and greater resilience than others.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOR THERAPY (DBT) is an exciting new treatment option for those suffering with BPD. It is a therapy which has elements in common with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

It is an evidence-based treatment (ie it is backed by scientific research).

In the past, BPD was considered to be extremely difficult to treat, but, with the development of therapies such as CBT and DBT, the prognosis is now far more optimistic.

DBT was originally created by the psychologist Marsha Lineham; at first, it was developed with the treatment of females who self-harmed and were suicidal in mind. However, since then, its possible applications have become much broader; it is now used to treat both males and females suffering from a large array of different psychological conditions.

As already stated, DBT has many elements in common with CBT; in addition to this, it also borrows from ZEN and a therapy, which is becoming increasingly popular, called MINDFULNESS.

DBT has been particularly successful in the treatment of BPD (for information about BPD see Category 3 of the main menu : BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO CHILDHOOD TRAUMA). It is thought that one of the main CONTRIBUTING FACTORS of BPD is a traumatic childhood in which the child grows up in an INVALIDATING ENVIRONMENT (eg made to feel unloved and worthless). Such a childhood environment is especially likely to result in the child developing BPD in later life if he/she also has a BIOLOGICAL VULNERABILITY (carries certain genes making him/her particularly vulnerable to stress).

When a person is suffering from BPD the condition causes him/her to REACT WITH ABNORMAL INTENSITY TO EMOTIONAL STIMULATION; the individual’s level of emotional arousal goes up extremely fast, peaks at an abnormally high level, and, takes much longer than normal to return to its baseline level.

This condition leads to the affected individual – a victim of his/her uncontrollable, intense emotional reactions – prone to stagger in life from one crisis to the next and to be perceived by others as emotionally unstable. It is thought that, due to the invalidating environment which the sufferer experienced in childhood, the normal ability to develop the coping strategies needed to regulate emotions is blocked, leaving the person defenceless against painful emotional feelings and leading to maladaptive (unhelpful) behaviors.

It is this problem which DBT was is now used to address. The therapy teaches individuals how to cope with, and regulate, their emotions so that they are no longer dominated and controlled by them. This is vital as the inability to control feelings will often wreck crucial areas of life, including friendships, relationships and careers. It is because of these possible effects that DBT also helps individuals develop SOCIAL SKILLS to help reduce the likelihood of them occurring.

DBT has been found to be effective in helping people suffering from a large range of psychiatric conditions; these include;

– self-harming
– depression
– suicidal ideation
– bipolar
– anxiety
– ptsd
– eating disorders
– substance abuse
– low self-esteem
– problems managing anger
– problems managing relationships/friendship

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Above eBook now available on Amazon for immediate download. CLICK HERE

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

‘Fighting’ Anxiety can Worsen It: Why Acceptance Works Better.

 

What Happens When We Try To ‘Fight’ Anxiety?

Trying to fight anxiety, research suggests (and, certainly, my own experience of anxiety would tend to confirm this) can actually AGGRAVATE the problem and lead to greater feelings of distress. Stating the shatteringly obvious, none of us wants to experience the feelings an anxiety condition brings; however, difficult as it may sound at first, DEVELOPING AN ATTITUDE OF ACCEPTANCE TOWARDS IT, rather than entering an exhausting mental battle with it, has been reported by many to be a superior strategy for coping with anxiety.

The psychologist Beck, to whom I have made several references already in this blog (he was one of the founders of the very helpful therapy called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, or CBT, for people suffering from conditions such as depression and anxiety – see my posts on CBT) devised the acronym A.W.A.R.E for ease of remembering the key strategies for coping. Let’s take a look at what the acronym A.W.A.R.E stands for:

A Accept the anxiety (it sounds hard, I know, but so is constantly struggling to fight it):

The benefits of adopting this approach are that it may help to reduce the PHYSIOLOGICAL symptoms commonly associated with anxiety (eg accelerated heart rate, increased muscle tension, hyperventilation, sweating -or ‘cold sweats’- trembling, dry mouth etc). It may, too, help with PSYCHOLOGICAL symptoms (people report that an attitude of acceptance towards their anxiety makes them feel less distressed). A kind of motto which has come to attach itself to the acceptance approach to anxiety is: ‘if you are not WILLING to have it, you WILL’ (see what they’ve done there!)

W Watch your anxiety:

It is suggested that rather than get too ‘caught up’ in anxiety, together with all the distressing negative thoughts and fears it produces, to, instead, just observe it in a DETACHED and NON-JUDGMENTAL manner; this involves trying to adopt a kind of NEUTRAL MENTAL ATTITUDE towards it – in other words, neither liking it nor seeing the experience of anxiety as a terrible, unsolvable catastrophy (again, I realize, of course, that intense anxiety is very painful, so this, too, may sound difficult at first). People report that when they adopt this DETACHED, NEUTRAL view of their feelings of anxiety they starts to lose their, hitherto, tenacious grip on their lives.

A Act with your anxiety:

Severe anxiety can leave us feeling as if we are incapable of functioning on even a basic level. It is important to remember, however, as I have repeated at, no doubt, tedious length througout this blog, that just because we believe something it does not logically follow that the belief must be true. Indeed, when my anxiety was at its worst, I did not feel able, or even believe I could,shave or brush my teeth etc…etc… Many people report, however, that if they take the first (often, extremely challenging) step to try to carry on with normal activities, despite the feeling of anxiety which may accompany this, they can, after all, accomplish that which they originally believed they couldn’t. Success then tends to build upon success: completion of the first activity increases the self-belief and the confidence to go on to the second activity, the completion of which provides further self-belief and confidence…and so on…and so on…

In order to make this easier, it may be necessary to slow down the pace at which, in different circumstances, we would otherwise carry out the particular tasks that we set ourselves.

R Repeat the steps:

This just means that by repeating the ACCEPTING ANXIETY, WATCHING OUR ANXIETY (in a detached and neutral manner) and ACTING (despite the feelings of anxiety which may accompany such action) CYCLE, the anxiety may be slowly eroded away.

E Expect the best (even if it does not come naturally)

When we are depressed and anxious we, almost invariably, expect the worst. This is overwhelmingly likely to perpetuate the condition. However, just as expecting the worst can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, so, too, can expecting the best. If, like me, you are not a natural optimist, the concept of expecting the best may go against the grain. However, research shows that optimistic people are more likely to achieve their goals than those of us who do not appear to have been blessed with quite such a sunny disposition. It is worth adapting the strategy on, at least, an experimental basis. It is also useful to keep in mind that even if the best does not occur, we will still have the inner-strength necessary to cope.

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childhood trauma and depression

 

Above eBook now available for immediate download on Amazon.  CLICK HERE.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Trauma: How Cognitive Processing Therapy can Help.

It is always important to treat post-traumatic stress and this is particularly the case in relation to childhood trauma. This is because it is during childhood that we form our core beliefs about ourselves, others and the world in general. Childhood trauma can severely distort these beliefs in a highly destructive manner. Without treatment, these damaging views and beliefs can endure for a life-time, blighting the entire life of the affected individual, even ruining it.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a particular type of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and there is now much evidence from research studies that it can prove highly effective in the treatment of the effects of trauma:

Frequently, individuals who have suffered childhood trauma find themselves in a perpetual and distressing struggle with painful memories. Thoughts about these often become circular and overwhelming, never reaching a resolution. The person experiencing them can feel more and more conflicted as time goes on if effective treatment is not sought. Indeed, many who seek therapy do so because they find they have become ‘stuck’ or ‘caught up’ in their painful thoughts, memories and feelings and they feel unable to properly integrate or make sense of these.

 

CPT helps people to understand what they went through, how it affected them, and how it has affected, in a negative and distorted way, their view of themselves, others and the world in general (psychologists refer to such thinking as a ‘negative cognitive triad’, one of the key symptoms of clinical depression).

CPT aims to help individuals rectify this negative cognitive triad and gain AUTHORITY over their trauma-related memories and feelings, or, to put it another way, CPT helps people to be IN CONTROL OF THEIR MEMORIES AND RELATED FEELINGS, rather than the other way around.

Many individuals who have experienced childhood trauma, also, very frequently, find themselves ‘living in the past’: continually brooding on what happened, why it happened and how it has adversely affected their lives; such ruminations may become obsessive. CPT helps break this pattern of thinking: one of the key elements of CPT is to help people CREATE A BOUNDARY BETWEEN THE PAST AND THE PRESENT so that the individual can free himself to finally live in the ‘now’ rather than the ‘then’.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma: Treating the Root Cause of Related Symptoms.

overcoming shame

childhood trauma and root cause of symptoms

I had been perplexed for a very long time, given the emotional symptoms I was experiencing, which, it had always been obvious to me, were in large part related to my childhood experiences, why I had never been offered therapy, by the NHS, which could specifically address this issue. In fact, the professionals I had seen, incuding GPs and psychiatrists, rarely, if ever, asked me about my childhood, nor did they seek, in any way that I could ascertain, to link my symptoms to it. I can only assume that therapy addressing emotional problems which are linked to childhood experiences are deemed to be too expensive; perhaps it relates to where you happen to live, as different regions have different budgeting priorities. I know, though, that such therapies are available.

MEDICAL MODEL :

It is a common problem. In the UK, mental illness is almost invariably addressed using the MEDICAL MODEL (ie drugs are used to alter brain biochemistry). Some studies have shown, however, that anti-depressants work no better than PLACEBOS. We must ask, then, if, in many cases, treating mental illness with drugs is simply inappropriate? Would it not be better, in a lot of cases, to address the root cause of the symptoms -childhood trauma and/or other relevant life experiences?

PSYCHODYNAMIC AND PSYCHOANALYTIC PSYCHOTHERAPY:

These tharapies both seek to address root causes of adult psychological difficulties. Many of my posts have already discussed the fact that childhood trauma, very often, lessens (often, through physiological effects on the brain) the individual’s ablility to cope with stress in adult life. Here is a recap of symptoms childhood trauma can lead to:

– alcohol/drug misuse
– dissociative disorders (see my post on this in the ‘EFFECTS OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA’ category).
– self-harm (eg cutting self with sharp instrument, burning self with cigarette ends – see my post on this in above category)
– suicide attempts, suicide
– eating disorders
– acute depression
– extreme anxiety
– post-traumatic stress disorder (see my post on this in above category)
– obsessive-compulsive disorder

childhood trauma and treating the root cause of symptoms

Clearly, such difficulties can cause the individual severe distress, so it is important to investigate ALL the possible treatment options.

Psychodynamic and psychoanalytic psychotherapy aims, as I have already said,to address the root cause of distressing psychological symptoms: they are based upon the idea that we all SUPPRESS (ie bury deep down in the mind) feelings that, if they were allowed full access to consciousness, would OVERWHELM us with ANXIETY and EMOTIONAL PAIN. However, this requires psychological effort, and, in order to keep them suppressed, we must employ DEFENSE MECHANISMS (these may be employed both on conscious and unconscious levels). Examples of such defense mechanisms are PROJECTION and REACTION FORMATION:

– PROJECTION: this refers to how we EXTERNALIZE things we dislike about OURSELVES. For example, someone who is (needlessly) ashamed of being homosexual may go around calling everybody else ‘gay’ (using the word in a perjorative sense, of course)

– REACTION FORMATION: here, the individual feels the need to constantly proclaim s/he is not what, deep down, perhaps unconsciously, s/he feels s/he actually is. For example, someone who suppresses their aggressive instincts may feel the need to constantly proclaim how peace loving they are and how incapable of inflicting physical harm on others. In Shakespeare’s play, HAMLET, Iago seems to be aware of this psychological concept of reaction formation when he states, heavy with insinuation: ‘Methinks she protests too much’. Indeed, many of Freud’s ideas were anticipated in Shakespeare’s works.

There are other defense mechanisms which would take up too much space to go into here, but they all involve CUTTING OURSELVES OFF FROM OUR TRUE FEELINGS or trying to banish them in other ways, due to real, or perceived, societal and cultural demands.

It is thought that the MORE PAINFUL AND DIFFICULT KEEPING THE FEELINGS SUPPRESSED IS, THE MORE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFORT THE MECHANISM OF SUPRESSION TAKES UP, and, therefore, THE MORE INTENSE THE REPERCUSSIONS, OR COSTS, IN TERMS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL SYMPTOMS, ARE (see list above for examples of these symptoms).

Psychotherapy aims to get us in touch with the feelings we are suppressing and work through them; some types of psychotherapy aim to bring what is buried in the unconscious into conscious awareness to enable such a process.

TYPES OF THERAPIES AVAILABLE:

1) SHORT-TERM PSYCHODYNAMIC PSYCHOTHERAPY: this usually consists of about 20 sessions spread over 20 weeks.

2) PSYCHOANALYTIC PSYCHOTHERAPY: this can consist of 2 or 3 sessions per week. There is no time limit – as many sessions are provided as required.

3) PSYCHOANALYSIS: this can comprise up to 5 sessions per week. Again, there is no time limit and as many sessions are provided as required.

By working through suppressed feelings (such as anger or fear) with the therapist, the rationale is that the past gradually loses its grip on the present, and, thus, its power to cause continued suffering.

DOES IT WORK?

Certainly, if considering such therapy, great care is needed when selecting a suitable therapist (eg checking their training, success rate, recommendations etc) as it is possible the treatment can do more harm than good if not properly implemented.

The psychologist, Hans Eysenck, argued that patients who underwent psychoanalysis recovered from their psychological difficulties no better than untreated controls. HOWEVER, there is, in fact, plenty of research which SUPPORTS its effectiveness; for example: Roth et al (1996) and, also, Holmes et al (1995).

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma: Identity Problems and How to Tackle Them.

childhood_trauma_questionnaire

One outcome of childhood trauma can frequently be that the person who has suffered it is prone to develop IDENTITY PROBLEMS.

A person’s identity represents their attempt to pin down the essential elements he sees (rather than what others see) that make the individual who s/he are. One’s identity develops over time.

Our identity can be helpful to our psychological health (if we see ourselves in largely positive terms) or unhelpful to it (if we see ourselves in largely negative terms). People, especially if suffering from depression, lacking in confidence etc, extremely often view themselves FAR MORE NEGATIVELY THAN WOULD BE OBJECTIVELY WARRANTED; whereas many others (not suffering from mental illness, in many cases) may see themselves in far too glowing terms (this ‘over self-congratulatory’ view adopted by many is thought to have developed to confer evolutionary advantages on those who have it, appearing confident to potential mates, for example, provided, I suppose, it is not absurdly exaggerated).

Aspects of our lives which can affect our identities include:

  • our values
  • our physical appearance
  • our mental/physical health
  • our education
  • our achievements
  • our work (Freud attributed especial importance to this, as he did to sexual fulfilment, the thwarting of which, he proposed, could lead to extreme neurosis)
  • our relationships
  • our age
  • our financial situation
  • our perception of our social status 

The identity which emerges from such factors is strongly related to our self-esteem and self-confidence.

IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT:

This begins very early in our lives. Ages 4 years to 6 years are thought to be a critical time; TRAUMA during this period is LINKED to the DEVELOPMENT OF IDENTITY PROBLEMS IN LATER LIFE. From the ages of about 6 years to 12 years, the child normally develops the skills necessary to MANAGE EMOTIONS, a skill strongly linked to identity (for example, ‘cool’ versus ‘volatile’); indeed, if TRAUMA INTERFERES WITH THIS PROCESS AN EXTREMELY TEMPESTUOUS ADOLESCENCE CAN FOLLOW).

In ‘normal’ development, adolescents may experiment with various identities and this process gradually leads to the stage in which there is a sense of the identity becoming crystallized. Again, however, individuals affected by trauma will often find this period exceptionally stressful and find that NO CLEAR SENSE OF THEIR OWN IDENTITY EMERGES ; THEIR SENSE OF THEIR OWN IDENTITY CAN BE CONFUSED AND THEY MAY FEEL THAT THEY ‘DON’T KNOW WHO THEY REALLY ARE’.

CONFUSED IDENTITY IN ADULTHOOD AS A RESULT OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA:

By adulthood, then, those who have experienced childhood trauma will often find that their identity is UNSTABLE and FRAGILE ; this will often mean that their attitudes, values and sense of who they are are all prone to wildly fluctuation; these changes are frequently dramatic (for example, oscillating between feeling deep love and deep hatred towards the same person; or, sometimes, perhaps, feeling exceptionally important only to shift without warning or obvious trigger into a feeling of despair, self-loathing and worthlessness).

IDENTITIY PROBLEMS AND BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER (BPD):

Identity problems in adulthood are often a symptom of BPD. BPD frequently occurs as a result of childhood trauma and much more about the condition can be discovered in the by clicking here to read my article about it.

DEVELOPING A MORE CONSISTENT AND STRONGER SENSE OF ONE’S IDENTITY:

How can people with identity problems make their sense of identity stronger? One possible place to start this process, which needs to be gradually worked on over time, is for the individual suffering from the crisis in identity to consider the things which are of most importance to him/her in life; identities are largely formed based on these considerations. Prorities in life which people choose to concentrate on, and, which, therefore, contribute to making up their identities include:

  • friendships
  • relationships
  • family
  • academic interests
  • career
  • creativity (for example, painting, writing, acting)
  • hobbies
  • choice of entertainment (for example, musical taste, taste in film, cinema, theatre, favourite kinds of books etc.)
  • material possessions
  • spirituality, religion, atheism, agnosticism
  • charity work (for example, for homeless, rehabilitation of ex-prisoners, environment, hospice, Amnesty International)
  • physical appearance
  • financial situation
  • This is not, of course, an exhaustive list and there may well be other areas that can be added, depending on preferences.

A starting point might be to pick out 3 or 4 areas of interest (this, in itself, reflects identity, and, therefore, can be seen as providing foundational pieces of the jig-saw yet to emerge, as it were) and to concentrate on these at first (other elements can be added later; merely starting the process may lead to other ideas emerging at a later time).

For each of the factors selected, it can then prove of use to set some goals relating to how these areas may be incorporated, or, more fully incorporated, into one’s life (these goals need to be quite specific and achievable; there is little point starting with such challenging goals that they may prove impossible to meet and thus damage morale).

Here are some examples:

  • because academic achievement is important to me, I will enrol in a night-school class (investigate and specify appropriate course) and complete the course.
  • because family and/or friends are important to me I will attend an anger management course.
  • because creativity is important to me I will set aside two hours a week to write poetry or a novel.
  • because my mental health is important to me I will seek out appropriate counselling and complete the sessios recommended (provided the therapy proves of potential value, of course).

The more the individual is able to incorporate and develop areas such as those listed above, which reflect his true values, interests and priorities, the more AUTHENTIC and REWARDING the person’s life is likely to be; the more, too, will the individual’s true and stable sense of self continue to evolve.

RESOURCES :

OVERCOME IDENTITY PROBLEMS MP3. CLICK HERE.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Childhood Trauma: Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).

EMDR

Individuals who have suffered severe childhood trauma may, as a result of it, later suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or similar condition. Some professionals advocate a relatively new technique which aims to address this; it is known as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).

WHAT IS EMDR?

The therapist administering EMDR will first examine the issues related to the individual’s psychological difficulties and, also, help him/her develop strategies to aid in relaxation and deal with stress. After this, the therapist encourages the individual to recall particular traumas, whilst, simultaneously, manipulating his/her eye movements by instructing him/her to follow the movements the therapist is making with a pen, or similar object, in front of the individual’s face). The theory is that this will facilitate the individual in effectively reprocessing his/her traumatic experiences, thus alleviating psychological distress.

THIS SOUNDS A LITTLE ODD; WHAT IS THE RATIONALE BEHIND EMDR AND, HOW, EXACTLY, IS IT THOUGHT TO WORK?

My first reaction to hearing about this particular therapy was that it sounded somewhat strange. However, the rationale behind EMDR is that disturbing memories from childhood need to be PROPERLY PROCESSED by the brain in order to alleviate symptoms associated with having experienced childhood trauma (eg PTSD, as already mentioned); this is because the view is taken that it is the UNRESOLVED TRAUMA that is the cause of the psychiatric difficulties the individual who presents him/herself for treatment is suffering. Those professionals who recommend the therapy believe that the EYE MOVEMENTS INDUCED BY THE THERAPIST IN THE INDIVIDUAL BEING TREATED LEAD TO NEUROLOGICAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL CHANGES IN THE BRAIN WHICH AID IN THE EFFECTIVE REPROCESSING OF THE TRAUMATIC MEMORY, and, in this way, ameliorates psychological problems from which the individual had been suffering.

 

WHAT ARE THE STAGES INVOLVED IN EMDR THERAPY?

These are briefly outlined below:

1) The first stage is the identification of the specific memory/memories which underlie the trauma.

2) Next, the individual is asked to identify particular negative beliefs he/she links to the memory (e.g. ‘I am worthless’)

3) Then, the individual being treated is asked to replace the negative belief with a positive belief (e.g .’I am strong enough to recover’ or ‘I am a person of value with potential to have a bright future’ etc)

4) In the fourth stage, the therapist moves a pen (or similar object) in various, predetermined motions in front of the individual’s face and he/she is instructed to follow the movements with his/her eyes (e.g repeatedly left and right). Whilst this is going on, the therapist instructs the individual to simply, non-judgmentally observe his/her own thoughts, letting them come and go freely and without trying to influence them in any way – just to accept them, in other words, and let them happen.

5) This procedure is repeated several times.

Each time the process is undertaken, the therapist asks the individual being treated to rate how much distress he/she feels – this continues until his/her self-reported level of distress becomes very low. Similarly, each time the process is undertaken, the individual is asked to report how strongly he/she now feels he/she believes in the positive idea given in stage 3 (see examples provided above); therapy is only concluded once the level of reported belief becomes very high.

N.B. The therapy is actually more involved than this, so the above should only be taken as a brief outline. There are, too, different variations of procedure outlined above which can be employed within the EMDR range of therapies available.

 

EMDR CAN HELP UNBLOCK TRAUMATIC INFORMATION HELD IN THE BRAIN AND HELP US TO HEALTHILY INTEGRATE IT INTO OUR LIFE STORY AS A WHOLE :

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.

 

WHAT DO EVALUATION STUDIES OF EMDR THERAPY SUGGEST ABOUT ITS EFFECTIVENESS?

A recent meta-analysis of evidence (ie an overview of a large number of particular, individual studies of EMDR) supported the claim that it is effective, as have other meta-analyses. However, some researchers have suggested that it is not the EYE MOVEMENT PART of the therapy which is of benefit, but only the act of repeatedly recalling traumatic memories which is the effective component (based on the idea that these repeated mental exposures, under close supervision and in a supportive and safe environment, of the traumatic memories alone facilitates their therapeutic reprocessing).

In response to this criticism, its exponents (and there are many professionals who are), regard the EYE MOVEMENT COMPONENT of the therapy as ESSENTIAL in giving rise to the NECESSARY NEUROLOGICAL CHANGES which allow the EFFECTIVE REPROCESSING OF THE TRAUMA; these proponents also emphasize that the therapy only requires short exposures to the traumatic memory/memories, thus giving it an advantage over therapies which utilize far more protracted exposures.

Research into EMDR is ongoing.

eBooks :

borderline personality disorder ebook

 

Both above eBooks available on Amazon for immediate download. CLICK HERE.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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