Trauma Explained: Thoughts from a Trauma Therapist
I remember being a new therapist several years ago, and becoming panicked if my client presented with intense emotional outbursts in session. This is because I didn’t know how to console them or what was happening. Little did I know that several of the episodes of “uncontrollable crying” were symptoms of trauma. In hindsight, I wish I knew now what I didn’t know then.
I wanted so much to find a way to help clients beyond talk therapy. I found an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Processing) course and started my journey with becoming a trauma therapist. Little did I know that EMDR would be a life-changing experience for me.
During my training, I discovered my own childhood trauma and processed this with my own EMDR trained therapist. EMDR and trauma continue to ignite my passion for therapy and . helping others find a way through their traumatic pasts.
The Definition of Trauma
Francine Shapiro, in her benchmark book Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy explains: “by dictionary definition, any event that has had a lasting negative effect on the self or psyche is by its nature “traumatic.”
Exploring a History of Trauma in Counseling
I am always surprised that when I ask this direct question to clients, “Have you ever experienced a traumatic event,” clients usually answer “no.” If I rephrase the question to include the following. Please be aware that some of these questions in the interview could be activating and it is best to process through them with a trained professional, clients have a deeper level of understanding that, even though you had a “great parents,” some parenting strategies could have caused you harm.
When you were upset as a child, what would you do?
Did you ever feel rejected as a young child?
Are there any aspects of your early childhood experience that you think might have held you developmentally back or had a negative impact on how you turned out?
It is important to note that therapists are not trying to find “blame” when they “probe” into childhood experiences. They are helping you understand why past experiences influence present experiences, even if the experience seems insignificant.
Trauma From Your Upbringing
Emotional abuse, neglect, a parent’s consistent or unpredictable withholding of love, for any reason (disappointing grades, behavior, splitting siblings), is an event that negatively impacts your trajectory in the world, making it in fact traumatic.
Let’s say that in your present-day life, you recently were “let go” unexpectedly from a job with no real explanation as to why. You feel that your reaction is over the top because “other people” would have moved on by now. You don’t understand why you notice such a panic feeling in your chest, why you cry so easily now, and why you can’t stop ruminating about how you can win back your job. You might even research the topic nonstop.
A trauma therapist can help you understand and normalize that this “behavior” not “you” --it is a traumatic response. The response is often below consciousness, in what we call implicit memory. Implicit meaning that the memory is not in your conscious awareness but has great impact in your current responses (explicit memory is consciousness remembering).
EMDR Therapy for Trauma
Several trauma focused therapies are available to help with reducing current symptoms. EMDR is a therapy that started in the 1980s and is now the “go to” therapy for trauma. As an emdr trained therapist myself, I strongly believe in the “hype.” EMDR is a life changing therapy that zaps the power out of trauma and moves the power back into the hands of the client, so you can lead an empowered life that you deserve.
The EMDR Trained Therapist
When you peel back the layers in therapy with an EMDR trained therapist, you might be asked to float back into time to when you first experienced a similar sense. The float back will give you and your therapist valuable information as to why your present-day symptoms are so intense.
Maybe you remember several childhood memories where you had to do everything perfectly around your mother because, if you made a mistake, she would suddenly retreat to her room physically or just withdraw emotionally from you for hours.
A pattern of non-communication and withheld emotion by someone you depended on for survival, most likely caused you to adapt by preparing, planning, becoming someone your mother would “always like,” to avoid the emotional distance at any cost. And maybe your mother was wonderful in so many other ways--even nurturing to your needs most of the time, but this wave of sudden unpredictably—the possibility that she would retreat, was always just below the surface.
What Happens When You Experience Trauma?
When you experience trauma, it becomes maladaptively stored in your brain's neural networks with the same imagines, beliefs, and somatic feelings as when you first experienced it. “In simple terms, the past is the present” writes Francine Shaprio ((Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy 2018).
This explains why in the scenario above, the client’s abreaction was in response to being triggered by her implicit memories of a similar experience in childhood. Her ruminating thoughts on how to “fix” the layoff made sense in the context of her child-self, trying to stay on the good side of her mother. The “reaction” makes sense to trauma because it carries similar aspects of childhood memories.
But our brains, being the incredible healers they are, also have adaptive information available. When trauma becomes locked in neural networks the adaptive information that would help us “react” less intensely to present triggers cannot move into the locked areas. EMDR with its back-and-forth movement, we call bi-lateral stimulation, allows new information to move into “stuck parts” and turn down the volume on trauma. EMDR helps your brain “metabolize the dysfunction and transform it into useful information.”
An EMDR trained therapist will help you through the pain of trauma, without retraumatizing you. Trauma trained therapists know how to build internal resources that you will use to feel safe during trauma treatment. You will build inner strength, the ability to recognize trauma responses and strategies to change emotional states. They will help you become aware of your mind-body connection and why this is so important.
If you are one of the many trauma survivors that don’t understand what it means to be “in” your body or that are fearful of being in your body, trauma therapists have tools to help you feel less vulnerable in the process. Trauma can be transformed into smaller, bite-sized pieces of your past, so you feel empowered in your life.
If you’re interested in seeking EMDR or trauma treatment in Colorado, Contact Us to see which of our trauma specialists would be the best fit for you! We offer in-person and online trauma treatment.
How We Can Help
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Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:
Here at Catalyss Counseling, we want to meet all of your counseling needs in the Denver area. Our supportive therapists provide depression counseling, therapy for caregiver stress, grief and loss therapy, stress management counseling and more. We also have specialists in trauma and PTSD, women's issues, pregnancy and postpartum depression or anxiety, pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and birth trauma. For therapists, we can also provide clinical supervision! We look forward to connecting with you to help support your journey today.
Kristen Dammer believes in addressing the whole health needs of you as a person, and her dedication, creativity, and flexibility as a therapist are her greatest strengths. Her holistic approach to anxiety, grief and trauma helps you feel in control and creates a welcoming environment for you to share your vulnerabilities, fears, and experiences. She is trained in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and uses it to treat anxiety and trauma. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.