Trauma is a very individualized concept. Every person responds to traumatic or stressful events differently. For example, for one individual, trauma may be a parent ridiculing their weight as a young child. For another, however, being in a car accident, or experiencing physical or sexual abuse growing up, or the divorce of a child’s parents is traumatic.
Trauma is grouped into two main categories: big “T” trauma and little “t” trauma. Big “T” traumatic events are life experiences that meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders (DSM) for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Examples of big “T” traumatic events are accidents, physical or sexual abuse, loss or serious illness of self or loved ones, war, and natural disasters.
Small “t” traumatic events are those that can have a lasting effect on an individual but do not meet the DSM for PTSD. Examples of small “t” traumas are problems of daily life such as family conflict, financial problems, wedding planning, changing jobs, or divorce.
Traumatic memories are stored in the brain with negative feelings and cognitions associated with the original trauma. For example, someone who was involved in a serious car accident on the Interstate may have felt terrified, shaky, and thought, “I’m not safe on the interstate anymore.” Now each time she drives on the interstate she may feel scared and start shaking. This is because her brain is stuck believing that she is not safe on the interstate.
When traumatic experiences are triggered, people respond with the original perceptions, emotional responses, and behavioral reactions. Traumatic memories can be triggered by either internal stimuli, such as thoughts or dreams, or external stimuli, such as noises or actions that are like the original trauma.
Traumatic responses are involuntary because they are stored in the area of the brain associated with survival and are not rational. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a specific therapy that helps people to reprocess traumatic memories. EMDR helps the brain reprocess the traumatic memories from this part of the brain to the area of the brain associated with rationalization and reason by stimulating both sides of the brain with either eye movements or alternating hand taps.
A trained EMDR therapist spends the first few sessions discussing your history and tracing your present reactions to your past experiences. Then they will identify a target memory to begin reprocessing. Once the target memory has been identified, the therapist helps the client to identify the thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations associated with the memory and begin reprocessing the memory. A trained EMDR therapist helps you identify resources to cope with feelings and possible triggers that can be used between sessions.
The use of EMDR has been proven effective for treating both “T” trauma and “t” trauma and may be what you need to move past your past. If you are interested in getting yourself started with EMDR therapy, you can read more about the EMDR-trained providers at Encompass Mental Health: Angie Hoheisel, Akela Sorensen and Caroline Beebe.
EMDR for Kids and Teens
EMDR can also be a helpful tool to use with children and teens through the use of a child’s natural language of play. With additional training, a therapist is able to utilize play therapy and EMDR therapy together in order to help children and teens work through traumatic and/or stressful events that have happened throughout their life.
Ana M Gómez, MC, LPC is internationally known for her innovative work with children and adolescents and the use of EMDR Therapy. Ana has developed seven Advanced Workshops around the use of EMDR Therapy.
To get started with EMDR therapy, you can call our office at (605) 275-009 Ext. 1 or email Info@SiouxFallsCounseling.com.