What is Trauma?
The first image that comes to mind when we talk about trauma is life threating situations such as combat experiences, natural disasters, or witnessing crimes. Even though all of these experiences fall under the category of trauma, recent studies suggest that most adverse childhood experiences such as neglect, abuse, and violence are also considered to be traumatic. In counselling sessions I often come across people with adverse childhood experiences who often come in with issues such as anxiety or depression. From the literature we know that short-term impacts of trauma are symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, feelings of anger and guilt, and social isolation. While the long-term impacts of trauma could look like mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, phobia, substance abuse, and relational issues. So in this sense trauma is an essential part of the counselling process that needs to be discussed with clients in sessions.
Common Symptoms of Trauma:
Intrusive recollections of the distressing event/ flashbacks
Changes in sleep and recurrent nightmares
Feeling emotionally numb or detached (social isolation)
Shortened sense of future
Hypervigilance and increased stress level
Avoidance of certain people, activities or places that triggers the traumatic experience
Feelings of guilt or shame
How Trauma can impact your day to day life?
In the field of trauma we often hear the term “window of tolerance” which refers to an individual’s ability to stay emotionally regulated and present in situations. However, trauma can impede people’s ability to do so in two separate ways: Hyperarousal: refers to a state during which the individual becomes emotionally dysregulated (panic symptoms or anger issues are among common symptoms of this state). Hypo arousal refers to a stated during which individuals become emotionally “numb” and “unfocused”. Often time people in this state have a hard time connecting with their surroundings and are relieving parts of the traumatic event. The most common example could be driving home and not remembering how you got there!In terms of relationship with others trauma could interfere with your ability to deal with the present day challenge as people tend to “overreact” or “freeze” when trauma is involved which could adversely impact the way they respond to present day situations. A simple example could be when your manager asks you to do a task at work and all of a sudden you start to notice a strong emotional reaction that does not match the context of your situation.
How to Overcome Trauma?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a therapeutic approach that enables people to heal from the symptoms of emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences such: childhood abuse and neglect, life-threatening situations, and sexual abuse.
EMDR was primarily used in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Currently, it has found to be effective for the treatment of a wide range of psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, phobias, and low self-esteem.
EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment. In phases 1 and 2, a detailed history intake will be completed during which target memories will be identified and discussed in session, and more importantly, clients will be provided with coping and stress reduction techniques the client can use during and between sessions. Phases 3-6 is used to process the disturbing memories using bilateral sensory stimulation — such as eye movements, gentle tapping or sounds. Phases 7, 8 is used for closure and revaluation of the therapeutic work.
EMDR lasts about 90 minutes per session. The type of problem, current life circumstances, and the complexity of the traumas will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary.
A full description of the theory, sequence of treatment, can be found on https://emdrcanada.org as well as EMDR International Association (EMDRIA).