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.
As a licensed EMDR therapist I begin EMDR by spending the first few sessions discussing your history and tracing your present reactions to your past experiences. Then we will identify a target memory to begin reprocessing. Once the target memory has been identified, we identify the thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations associated with the memory and begin reprocessing the memory. I help you identify resources to cope with feelings and possible triggers that can be used between sessions.
The use of EMDR for has proven effective for treating both “T” trauma and “t” trauma and may be what you need to move past your past. If you think that EMDR therapy can help you, I’d love to talk with you more about its possibilities.