EMDR, an approach to resolving trauma
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a highly structured and highly effective treatment protocol for treating trauma, especially useful for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Let’s see how it works in the face of trauma.
What is a psychological trauma?
Talking about trauma is talking about stress. We generally associate the word “stress” with a busy lifestyle, with that feeling that we have all experienced at some time that we do not get to everything: in those moments one can say “I am stressed”, before experiences that we live as if they were overwhelming. .
Stress is a term that has its origin in physics, it is a concept that tells us about the force that a material can withstand before deforming or breaking. This, applied to the mind, indicates that our mind can withstand a certain amount of pressure before it is harmed. When something exceeds our ability to resist, we begin to notice discomfort in the form of symptoms, we are overcome by the situation.
A trauma is a life event that, Due to its high emotional charge, it overcomes this resistance capacity and leaves a deep mark on the memory. When we go through a situation like this, our nervous system, which is in charge of processing information, is saturated by overload and cannot work efficiently. He is not able to “digest” the experience.
T trauma and t trauma
When we think of a traumatic situation we often think of a natural catastrophe such as a hurricane or an earthquake, a terrorist attack, a kidnapping, a robbery or any other similar situation, of extreme danger and life threatening.
These types of experiences are what we call “trauma with a capital T” and they are situations that, due to the high emotional load they entail can exceed the capacity of our adaptive information system and generate a clinical picture known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
There are other types of experiences that are also potentially traumatic: those emotional wounds such as situations of humiliation, contempt, failure, abandonment, loss, marginalization, etc. These situations are the ones that can give rise to a “trauma with a small t”.
These events are more common and are not life threatening although they can inflict deep emotional injury., especially when they are suffered in the early stages of life, a particularly vulnerable time in which our nervous system is much more sensitive to external impressions.
Sometimes the person who goes through these situations may not be fully aware of having lived these experiences due to a dissociative phenomenon by which the mind hides the experience from consciousness. In fact, there are people who admit to having entire eras of their lives blank.
When this happens, it is common for the person to react with intense crying, disproportionate anger, that they cannot trust others, that they carry a general feeling of guilt or that they feel that they must be constantly on alert and do not know why. this happens. This creates a lot of helplessness and often leads people to believe that something is wrong with their mind. or it makes them have a feeling of inadequacy, that there is something inside of them that is not right.
When our mind is strongly impacted by extremely painful situations, sometimes it cannot correctly process what has happened, our adaptive processing system is blocked, a brain nucleus called the amygdala “hijacks” our brain and the experience is stored in the “non-declarative” or “implicit” memory network. In other words, our minds were so overwhelmed that we have not been able to do a proper mental digestion and we have stored the information in the wrong store.
Bilateral stimulation techniques are a set of procedures that EMDR uses to access memory networks and thus be able to rework the experience, separating the memory of the event from the emotional charge that accompanies it and thus allowing the metabolization of the memory .
When this happens, it is the hippocampus that is put into operation, a very important brain structure in the role of memory, and this hippocampus stores the information about what happened in “declarative memory” or “episodic memory”. In other words, Through a process called dual attention we allow our mind to be simultaneously in the present and in the past, so that our adaptive information processing system can digest the experience and place the memory in the right store.
When this happens, the person reports a feeling of liberation; the memory remains but the emotional charge no longer accompanies it, the past ceases to condition the present and generally this processing is accompanied by valuable learning that in psychology we call “pautraumatic growth”.
If you are interested in starting a therapy process applied to problems like the ones we have seen here, seek professional help as soon as possible.
- Shapiro, F., & Forrest, MS (2009). EMDR: A revolutionary therapy for overcoming anxiety, stress and trauma (Tra ed.). Nirvana Libros, SA deC.V.