This blog post was written by Miller D. Knight Jr., Behavioral Health Director at the Beloit Area Community Health Center.
What is Trauma?
Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of stressful events that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self, and shatters their sense of security. However, not everyone that experiences a stressful event will develop trauma. Some people will develop symptoms that resolve after a few weeks, while others will have more long-term effects.
While there are no objective criteria to evaluate which events will cause post-traumatic symptoms, circumstances typically involve the loss of control, betrayal, abuse of power, helplessness, pain, confusion and/or loss. The event does not have to be to the extreme of war or natural disaster to profoundly affect a person.
Often symptoms can be related to long-term childhood adversity as sexual, physical, or psychological abuse, bullying, car accidents, life threatening illnesses, domestic violence, death, or sexual assault. It is very subjective, and it is more important to bear in mind that it is defined more by our response to the trauma than its trigger.
Symptoms include shock, denial, or disbelief, confusion, difficulty concentrating, anger, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame, self-blame, withdrawing from others, feeling sad or hopeless, or feeling disconnected or numb. Physical symptoms include insomnia, nightmares, fatigue, being startled easily, difficulty concentrating, racing heartbeat, edginess and agitation, aches and pains, and muscle tension.
Treatment for Trauma
One of the most effective, leading treatment for the effects of trauma in our lives is EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing. EMDR, as with most therapy approaches, focuses on the individual’s present concerns. The EMDR approach believes past emotionally-charged experiences are overly influencing your present emotions, sensations, and thoughts about yourself.
As an example: “Do you ever feel worthless although you know you are a worthwhile person?” EMDR processing helps you break through the emotional blocks that are keeping you from living an adaptive, emotionally healthy life.
EMDR uses rapid sets of eye movements to help you update disturbing experiences, much like what occurs when we sleep. During sleep, we alternate between regular sleep and REM (rapid eye movement). This sleep pattern helps you process things that are troubling you.
EMDR replicates this sleep pattern by alternating between sets of eye movements and brief reports about what you are noticing. This alternating process helps you update your memories to a healthier present perspective.
The most exciting thing about EMDR is that its effects are permanent! Once you have processed your maladaptive responses to your traumatic memories you will no longer have that response when thinking of those memories.