EMDR, BRAINSPOTTING & ART
We invite you to take the next step to heal your anxiety, trauma and chronic stress.
What is Trauma?
A helpful way of envisioning trauma is recognize that it is an intelligent response by the body to a state of overwhelm. It can result in bursts of intense energy that manifests in symptoms of rage, despair, fear and the disruption of the nervous system. So often, therapy is conceived of in terms of symptoms. In doing so, it is easy to overlook our inborn and natural ability to harness some of the energy bound up in trauma to integrate our experiences, despite their being unpleasant or even tragic.
Focusing solely on the eradication of symptoms can reinforce the notion that it’s acceptable to get rid of the parts of ourselves that we don’t like. As though that were even possible.
A true healing experience teaches us to depart from disowning our feelings and intense energy. Befriending our emotions is the path to self acceptance and compassion. This naturally affects our ability to extend that compassion to others and build the connection that is disrupted by trauma.
How Does Therapy Help?
Trauma stifles movement and we get stuck. Healing restores movement in such a way that allows us to accept ourselves in a way that restores our life flow. This allows us to expand in ways to view ourselves and others with compassion and greater understanding. As we become more relational in the world, we are less likely to react with defensiveness.
Instead of negating ourselves with, “why am I not over this?” We learn to embrace all of our experiences and use the intelligence from those experiences to regain a sense of purpose.
In therapy, we learn to “slow down” so we can process the intense emotions involved in trauma in small amounts to gain greater tolerance of our emotions, (as opposed to negating them), and use the intelligence of our bodies to move forward.
What Might One Learn From Therapy?
That life is not a finish line to jump from one task to the next. It’s about living in the now more fully.
It is not uncommon that new clients who have experienced ruptures in their attachment or traumatic stress want to understand what happened to them. For healing and transformation to occur, this has to go beyond “thinking” about something. Indeed, beyond narrating what happened. When we limit our understanding to use of our cognitive abilities to try to understand what happened to us, something inside of us remains “wanting.”
Connection, Ethical Growth and Value Alignment
We need to have an embodied understanding of trauma to relate to the ethical transgressions that are often involved in trauma. Many instances of trauma involve ethical violations and acts of betrayal: e.g. bullying, anti-semitism, racism, sexual assaults, parental neglect. An embodied understanding of trauma that requires relating to and feeling through our bodies helps put us in alignment with our values and restores some of our understanding by promoting ethical growth.
Working with an Experienced Trauma Therapist
Easier said than done, trauma work involves delicately assessing “bite sized” chunks of feeling to process the intense emotions that are often “stuck” in the body and frozen in time as a result of trauma. It also involves ways of progressively relaxing parts of our body that are “tight” and “contracted” as a result of trying to contain the intensity of “heavy” emotions.
Learning to do this with compassion also complicates the process. It’s not uncommon that the release of trauma generates shame, fear and self-loathing. An experienced trauma therapist understands that the work of healing can often feel like a cacophony of discordant sounds at first, but with time evoke the harmony and joy of a melodic symphony.
One of the benefits of this alignment is the ability to set boundaries often ruptured with such violations. Respected boundaries are one of the ways in which we experience safety, so necessary to secure attachment, resilience and posttraumatic growth.
Click here to learn more about attachment, trauma, community healing and posttraumatic growth.
Increased hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts, feeling disconnected, anxiety, irritability, avoidance, feelings of guilt, difficulty concentrating, and trouble sleeping are all symptomatic of living in survival mode.
These responses to stress are the body’s natural response to our being overwhelmed. While it is normal to want to “push” through all of this, one of the things that we have learned from modern science is that the body traps all of this energy, unwanted emotion and distressful thoughts inside our minds and bodies. For some people, past experiences and unpleasant sensations from life threatening incidents, violations of our bodies or neglect of emotional or physical needs get triggered by current events and are relived all over again.
Trauma can result from a single event or recurring events. It can be direct or experienced when we witness what others go through and empathize with them. First responders and mental health professionals have the additional burden of having responsibility to help that other.
PTSD and the Visual Field
Trauma generates a large amount of energy that is often “stuck” in the past and trapped in our bodies.
Healing requires going through this energy field for release and transformational change.
Brainspotting is one of the ways in which we can help facilitate this movement of energy in order to fully integrate a trauma experience.
In everyday talk, we tend to think of “processing” as thinking. In reality, we are constantly processing all of our experience so that it is meaningful to us. This integration is automated for the most part. We are not always aware that we are “updating” until we intentionally reflecting on how we relate differently in our present to experience that is similar to what has occurred in the past.
As mentioned, this seamless and ongoing “processing” get stuck when we experience something traumatic.
Brainspotting can help jumpstart the intergration of traumatic experience.
Ever caught yourself staring upwards while you are deep in thought? You’re probably on what Brainspotting calls a “Gazespot.” This is a point on a person’s visual field that helps to access unprocessed trauma in the subcortical brain.
It is at this point where the body’s brain activity, organizes itself around that eye position.
A therapist trained in Brainspotting can help a client locate, focus, process and release a wide range of emotionally and bodily-based conditions.
Brainspotting is believed to harness the body’s natural self-scanning, self-healing ability. When this particular spot on the visual field is stimulated, the subcortical part of the brain, deep within our brain structure, appears to reflexively signal to the therapist that the source of the problem has been found.
Getting unstuck From The Past
Gold Standard in Trauma Treatment
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has been used to treat trauma since 1987. Traumatic memories are thought to be those that get “stuck” in processing when we are overwhelmed. These frozen memories get stuck in the same emotional states experienced at the time of the trauma. Through a manualized protocol, these memories are stimulated to continue processing which often results in a more distant and less intrusive experience when these memories are recalled.
Limitations of Talk Therapy
It’s not uncommon that those new to therapy associated “talking about things” as a crucial part of therapy. Support, validation and perspective are important aspects of therapy, but they do not always reach the deeper structures of the brain where the repetitive behaviors of traumatic experiences are encoded. Some of this experience is beyond words or awareness and requires a “bottom-up” approach to healing that exists with EMDR. Certainly, words can form part of how we regulate emotion, but this is a function of our thinking brain. It is the thinking brain that assists with insight, self-narrative and meaning.
A bottom-up approach helps target the visceral responses of trauma that are often felt in the body in the form of helplessness, vulnerability and impulses to fight or flee.
The Benefits of EMDR
EMDR functions on a cognitive, emotional and somatic level to restore balance that plays out in our inner experience, relationships and everyday life. It is a preferred treatment intervention among many clinicians and clients because of its potential to rapidly desensitize triggering reactions as certain “stuck” experiences resume processing.
Symptoms and Issues Treated
EMDR has been applied widely to what clinicians refer to as big “T” traumas, such as single incident car accidents and little “t” traumas which refer to a wide range of situations involving chronic stress or developmental trauma from childhood. These experiences include interactions we might not have considered trauma, but which respond well to reprocessing of cognitions, memory and emotional responses: disruptive relationships, narcissistic abuse, anger, loss, sexual assault, codependency, grief and infidelity.
When There are No Words
It’s not uncommon that we desire well-being and cannot even describe what is wrong. Sometimes we see destructive patterns in our relationships or reactions, or just sense an emptiness within. Not all trauma rises to the level of consciousness. Modalities such as EMDR and CBT can help draw out emotional pain that has no name, but maintains a real presence in our lives.
A Progressive Approach to Treating PTSD
Accelerated Resolution Therapy
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is prevalent in about 8% of the U.S. population. While shock and denial are common after any trauma, it is the longer term reactions such as flashbacks, physical symptoms and intrusive thoughts that are problematic for some and require more than talk therapy to work through and resolve the trauma.
Psychotherapy is a powerful process to transform this distress particularly when it is used to target both the mind and the body. Indeed, using somatic interventions that soothe body sensations and modalities that use the brain’s natural brain processes for memory reconsolidation and learning have proven most effective in terms of healing PTSD.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy is a cutting edge treatment for PTSD currently in use at Walter Reed Medical Center and the Betty Ford Foundation. It uses eye movement therapy to simulate the kind of eye-brain activity associated with REM sleep. It draws on cognitive therapies such as imaginal exposure and image rescripting to help trauma sufferers reprogram the way the brain stores traumatic memory.
Many clients report immediate relief after their A.R.T. sessions. It is not uncommon for people who have suffered for years to report significant improvement in just a few sessions. Clients remember the facts of certain events, but do not generate the strong emotions or physical sensations. What was disturbing that occurred in the past remains in the past.
Don’t Stay Stuck in Trauma and Suffering