HOPE AFTER TRAUMA
LifeWork offers treatment for the effects of traumatic events and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We have several therapists who specialize in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and Prolonged Exposure (PE). Unprocessed trauma can create intrusive symptoms of unwanted memories or nightmares. Distressing emotional and physical reactions to reminders of traumatic events may lead to avoidance of situations that might pose such trauma-related triggers. People who have experienced trauma may also have difficulties trusting themselves, those close to them, or the world they live in, and may experience persistent feelings of depression, irritability, or hypervigilance.
These symptoms that were once adaptive to the survival of traumatic events or environments continue to persist, even when psychological safety is attained. This can feel feel overwhelming, frustrating, and confusing as these symptoms interfere with one's capacity to feel grounded and safe in the present moment, engage in meaningful relationships, or achieve goals they have set for themselves.
Trauma treatment provides the mind and body the opportunity to reprocess and heal from pain caused by traumatic events and truly experience psychological safety, resulting in less reactivity and a greater feeling of control over one's own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Our brain is designed to heal like the rest of our body - a cut will heal and close, a disturbing event will be processed and resolved. Sometimes an obstacle prevents the brain from doing its job (like an infection that prevents a cut from healing). The brain ruminates (constantly thinks about it) until the emotion is gone/desensitized. The event will still be a “bad” event (“bad” things do not magically become “good” things), but the emotion is desensitized so the “bad” event becomes a historical fact - a story that can be told without the distressing emotion.
Psychological processing systems - like other bodily systems - are geared
toward health (e.g. cuts that heal).
Our systems get disrupted when we are traumatized, which results in some memories being stored wrong. Those memories lead to our brains making "past is present" conclusions where our current experiences unconsciously link to a negative past experience.
Prolonged Exposure (PE)
Prolonged Exposure (PE) is a therapeutic intervention that aims to decrease fear-based beliefs and responses to trauma-related stressors, memories, and environments. Often times those who have experienced trauma will attempt to avoid reminders or triggers of traumatic experiences, due to negative emotions and fears associated with the traumatic event, which can limit them in pursuing goals or building relationships. The more often triggers are avoided or escaped quickly when confronted, the more associated fear and anxiety builds around the trigger itself.
Through PE, individuals practice exposure to trauma-related triggers. Exposure can take place through imaginal methods, where traumatic experiences are described and felt in session. In vivo exposure typically takes place outside of session by confronting triggers or stressors outside of the office.
To be effective, exposure must be repeated, prolonged, without safety behaviors, and graded. Safety behaviors, such as distractive or preparatory behaviors, are behaviors that decrease anxiety during the exposure practice, but weaken the effects of exposure. Graded exposure refers to the process of engaging in exposure-based exercises by starting with exercises that create the least amount of distress. Habituation is the process by which feelings of anxiety and distress are neutralized when exposure occurs according to protocol.
PE demonstrates effectiveness in reducing PTSD symptoms. Read more here and here.
Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an evidence-based psychotherapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) where both sides of the brain are stimulated while the traumatic event is brought to mind. In addition, successful outcomes are well-documented in literature for EMDR treatment of other psychiatric disorders, mental health problems, and somatic symptoms.
The model on which EMDR is based, Adaptive Information Processing (AIP), posits that much of psychopathology is due to the maladaptive encoding and/or incomplete processing of traumatic or disturbing adverse life experiences. This impairs the client’s ability to integrate these experiences in an adaptive manner.
The eight-phase, three-pronged process of EMDR facilitates the resumption of normal information processing and integration. This treatment approach, which targets past experience, current triggers, and potential future challenges, results in alleviation of presenting symptoms, decrease or elimination of distress from the disturbing memory, improved view of the self, relief from bodily disturbance, and resolution of present and future anticipated triggers.
– (excerpt from EMDRIA Definition of EMDR, 2018, complete definition in appendix)
Disturbing memories change for the better during EMDR Therapy.
After successful reprocessing:
The memory is no longer disturbing
Negative thoughts about ourselves change
Parts of the memory stay to help us with new experiences
What is no longer helpful is forgotten.
Read more here.