Resolving Trauma - A Different Approach to Healing with EMDR
I want to provide a picture of what to expect and the approach I take to help those who have experienced trauma and have not been able to resolve their symptoms on their own.
First off: One major difference between EMDR and traditional talk therapy: learning to observe and notice your experience instead of trying to think our way to a solution. Below I hope to explain how this works and why it works.
Our natural tendency is to try to think harder and harder to solve what ails us. Our mind may tell us, “If I can just understand why that happened to me, I will feel better.” While this makes perfect sense, the problem is that just knowing why something happened to us often doesn’t resolve our symptoms of trauma. In many ways just thinking about a traumatic experience can lead to more rumination (a term for compulsively thinking about something) which fosters less energy and more depressive and anxious symptoms. Our thinking mind can only take us so far.
What is so powerful and helpful in EMDR is the shift toward not thinking harder, but moving towards a posture of presently noticing what is happening in the body. This may be too difficult to do on your own, particularly after a traumatic experience. Having a trained professional guide you through this process can be the game changer and resource you need to heal.
An example: You start to feel anxious. Your mind wants to figure out why you are nervous, so it begins its ruminative chatter, “Why am I so anxious, what’s wrong with me, I shouldn’t be feeling this way!” If you can imagine, the tone of this self-talk is usually not kind, which ends up making the anxiety worse. So you end up going to therapy and you may try to start figuring out with your therapist what is causing the anxiety. You may figure out that your anxiety is coming from a critical parent that never let you express yourself emotionally, or it came from a series of traumatic experiences with bullying and feeling isolated and lonely throughout middle school. That is a fine interpretation, however just interpreting and understanding the roots of the problem typically does not resolve your symptoms.
This is where EMDR can come in and start to move energy in a new direction. I say energy because in EMDR we focus on the body, which has more to do with energy than thoughts. (At least we place more focus on energy. We still are very aware of the way we are thinking, and often can see our thoughts more clearly when we are focusing more on the body. It gives us a vantage point to watch the mind, instead of being caught up and fused with the mind.)
So back to one of the examples. Say you have traumatic memories of being bullied throughout much of middle school. Instead of thinking and talking this out, we would focus on certain scenes that you can remember. We would begin to identify what you see, possibly what you hear, or other senses that come to mind. Anything from mundane images like a cold, beige classroom wall to the white spit in the corner of a screaming student’s face. All memories have meaning when we are present and noticing what we see in our mind’s eye in the moment.
When you stop controlling and thinking too much, you begin to just notice what already is there in your mind. That is the real data and important material that we can process. Your body wants to heal but often our thinking mind is part of the problem and gets in the way. Noticing and observing begins to move the energy towards resolution.
When this process gets going, you may start to say “huh that’s interesting, this thought just came up or this image just came to mind.” This is the work of being curious, which also carries us along the path of resolution. Curiosity steps us out of repetitive cycles of entrapment by the mind and again moves us toward resolution of past wounds.
This is not analyzing, because when we analyze, we step further and further away from presence. Noticing and observing and reporting what you experience moment to moment is being present. You could spend your entire life talking about how you had a horrible middle school experience. But just talking and thinking about this does not usually allow you to heal. You need to engage your body, mind and emotions in a way that releases the energy from that experience.
So back to the images. Instead of trying to figure out why you see the spit in the corner of the mouth of the kid who used to bully you, we simply have you notice what you are feeling in the body at this moment. We also may have you notice what feelings (one word feeling states like sad or fear or disappointment) you are noticing right now. We may bring up certain negative beliefs that are associated with this past memory, like “I’m not good enough” or “I should’ve done something.” But again, we don’t try to analyze why you are thinking those thoughts, instead we just notice those thoughts and again speak them and be aware of where we hold these thoughts as negative energy in our body. When you begin to just notice what is happening moment to moment, your body begins to move this energy toward resolution.
There are a series of steps we take in a specific protocol, however this is the main outline of how we approach these steps. We address our problem by noticing the body, noticing what our mind is telling us, and noticing what feeling states we are experiencing. This is a very different approach than having cognitive conversations about our problems.
We don’t have to be smarter to heal, but we do have to be courageous. Courage is sitting with another human being and allowing yourself to feel the energy of past wounds and believe that there can be another way. I help create a space where my clients can courageously generate their own internal resources and move toward healing. That is a powerful, empowering process. If you feel stuck, frozen and isolated by certain experiences in your life, I would love to be a resource for you to get back to living the way you were meant to live.
The next steps if you want to learn more: call 816-775-2448 for a free consult or email Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Hyder, MA LPC-S, EMDR-trained