How Trauma Affects the Brain
There are many reasons that trauma hurts us. When you experience a traumatic event, brain chemistry actually changes. Areas of your brain that once worked in a particular way change based on hyperarousal due to trauma. You may experience a hypervigilance; always scanning your environment for a perceived danger. The "fight or flight" is the physical and emotional response to protect yourself from that danger. Your trauma is real, and your brain is telling you that you're hurting and need help. Trauma occurs when your ability to handle a traumatic event is compromised.
Getting Help for Trauma
It's essential to get help when you come to realize how the trauma, past or present, has impacted your life. You need to talk about your pain and start to process what had happened. This may sound scary, but think of it as an empowering statement. You truly have the ability to process past events and live an empowering, fulfilled life. One of the best places to do this processing is with a mental health professional who is skilled at helping people who have been through trauma. Remember you didn't bring your trauma upon yourself, but you can take steps to heal from it with the support of a mental health professional.
Psychological trauma can affect your life for many years after the event or situation that caused it. Talk therapy has proven valuable in helping people overcome the distress, pain, and dysfunction that come from having lived through the most overwhelmingly threatening experiences. However, there is evidence that there are other more affective forms of therapy, such as EMDR, that can actually change the way your brain processes the trauma.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a relatively new type of psychotherapy modality created by Francine Shapiro. The goal is to help people process traumatic experiences in healthier ways. EMDR assumes that the mind is constantly moving toward mental health unless something blocks that flow. The goal of EMDR is to remove that blockage.
How It Works: The therapist uses some form of external stimulus to direct your attention outward. This can be eye movements, hand tapping, or audio stimulation. During this part of the session, you talk about the event, your current distress, or imagine what your future will look like while the therapist provides the external stimulus. During the session, your therapist tells you what aspect of your story to hold in mind as you track their hand movements with your eyes or follow some other type of instruction. As you process the memories and thoughts related to the experience, you gain insights that come from within you alone. You come to realize that you have the strength that helped you survive. Your experience is transformed from a horrible memory to a vision of your own power.
Note: I am trained EMDR therapist. I have had exceptional results in the processing of past and current traumatic events.
Goals for Trauma Therapy
Before you undertake any type of counseling, it's important to know what you want to get from the therapy process, what you want to accomplish, and how you want your life to look when therapy has come to an end.
The most crucial goals of trauma therapy are typically:
- To face the reality of the past event without getting stuck in it
- To reduce or eliminate trauma symptoms
- To work towards shifting focus from the past to the present
- To improve daily functioning
- Raise awareness of generational trauma
- To reclaim your personal power
- To overcome addictions associated with traumatic stress
- To gain skills that prevent relapse
- To create a new story for your life