Understanding EMDR Therapy… What Happens During Trauma?
Just like our body, our brain has an innate healing capacity. However, when we experience a traumatic or very stressful event, the memory of that event may not be processed and ‘stuck’ in the same way as an ordinary memory.
Here we can use a smoke activated fire alarm to explain the system. When we’re under threat, our brain’s amygdala, which is the ‘smoke alarm’ in our brain, kicks in and we experience an unconscious fight, flight, or freeze-to-survival response.
The part of the brain that usually puts a ‘time and date tag’ on a memory (called the hippocampus) may be suppressed.
As a result, memory can “freeze in time” and get stuck in our nervous system. Then we may feel as if we are reliving the event over and over and experiencing the emotions and thoughts we had at the time of the trauma.
This may present as symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts. It’s as if our bodies are still in fight, flight or freeze mode and the ‘smoke alarm’ in our brain (amygdala) continues to sound even when the trauma has passed for a long time and there is no danger.
It makes us feel anxious or insecure when living in the now moment. Our cognitions, cognitions, thinking can also be shaped by traumatic or stressful life experiences. We may form negative beliefs about ourselves (eg, “I’m not good enough”), other people (eg, “I can’t trust anyone”), or the world around us (eg, “I’m not safe”).
How EMDR Therapy can help…
EMDR is a treatment model that uses bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, to activate the brain to process and resolve ‘stuck’ traumatic memories. In a way, EMDR ‘starts’ and resumes the brain’s natural healing process.
Specialist Clinical Psychologist Hülya İlhan
EMDR Level 2 Therapist