Trauma treatment is not about telling stories from the past. Trauma treatment is about helping people to be here now, to tolerate what they feel, right in the present.
— Bessel van der Kolk, MD
Trauma, or survival responses, are also learned motor behaviors. — but they’re much, much deeper. The thing is, once you’ve learned it, it stays with you until you find the way to unlearn it.
— Peter Levine, PhD
Everyone experiences trauma. It sometimes shows up with a capital “T” — a singular traumatic episode that overwhelms the system. It can also show up with what we call small “t” traumas — events or life experiences that eclipse our capacity to cope.
Trauma is not what happened to us, but what we had to do in response to a situation that temporarily overwhelmed our capacity for resilience. For instance, these experiences may lead one to feel insecure, highly self-critical, or to experience difficulty trusting one’s self or others. These experiences may lead us to be overly accommodating, or to feel numb and checked out at the thought of conflict.
Outside of our conscious awareness, our nervous system is capable of automatically deciding in any given moment if we are safe or in danger. When we are faced with a situation that pushes on us beyond our capacity, our nervous system mobilizes and moves us instinctively towards survival. This survival instinct is required when we feel we are under threat, but this energy can remain after the threat has passed. It can be frustrating when we intellectually know things are okay, but our body continues to send cues that things are not okay. We may feel anxious, angry, impulsive, or emotionally reactive. We may feel the overwhelming need to do something, but we don’t know what that something is. We may feel disconnected and unworthy, isolated, withdrawn, immobilized, or apathetic. Because all of this is happening outside of conscious awareness, we usually get very little traction by implementing thinking strategies. This can lead us to believe there is something wrong with us — we want to change how we feel, but no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to make headway.
EMDR is the process of slowing down and bringing sustained awareness to the quality of our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. Working through the alarms and triggers in the nervous system means that the survival responses are no longer necessary or automatic. We can’t change the past. We can hold awareness around how the past shows up in the present moment, allow the activation to work through to completion, to discharge, and to resolve.
I am a certified EMDR therapist through EMDRIA (EMDR International Association) with additional and continuing Natural Processing training. I provide EMDR sessions in-person and online. You can read more about how online EMDR therapy works below, or feel free to use the contact button to reach me to discuss more fully.