Every culture uses idioms or colloquialisms to describe different situations or events. In the United States, you often hear people say things like: “I’m about jumped out of my skin,” “his heart sank,” “my stomach just dropped.” With any event in our life, not only do we have thoughts about or images of it, but our bodies also have an experience.
The factors involved in any experience include: the image, body sensations, emotions and thoughts about our self. The image involves anything experienced through our senses – sight, taste, touch, smell, sound. Body sensations are physical feelings such as chest tightening or pressure, stomach nausea, feeling like we want to run, a general relaxation or feeling of well-being. When we are involved in a positive event we might feel our stomach, shoulders or chest relax. When we experience an overwhelming event or series of events, our bodies may go into a state of fight, flight, freeze, or appease. Most of us ignore our body’s experience because we often don’t understand the language of our body.
The science behind traumatic experiences shows us that sometimes the event can resolve naturally with the different factors coming together to form a consolidated memory. When the factors are stored apart from each other (scattered), a sight, sound, smell or emotion can remind us of the event and trigger a physical response. This response can cause our bodies to react in a way we may not understand including feeling numb, freezing in place unable to move or speak, we may find ourselves yelling or fighting, experience daytime flashbacks or having nightmares.
Thankfully science is catching up with our biology and finding out more about these very visceral reactions to events in our life. We now know more about the etiology, biology, and psychology of trauma and stress-related disorders. We also know more about the interplay of stress and trauma and other disorders including anxiety and depression.
One of the methods used to facilitate memory consolidation of traumatic or overwhelming events is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This is a complex term for “make me less sensitive to reminders of the event”. After a memory has been processed using EMDR, clients find that when they think of the event, it no longer causes their body to react. Triggers that once caused a major reaction no longer have any power.
People find that they feel more relaxed, more present, have a wider range of emotions available to them, and have the ability to think and feel truthful and positive statements about themselves. EMDR can be helpful for many situations including addictions, anxiety, depression, stress disorders. It can be used with kids, teens, and adults.
Before an EMDR session takes place, preparation work is done in office. Providing the therapist historical information is helpful to the process. The therapist will use anxiety, depression, and other inventories to assess the client’s current state and use as a marker for progress. The client will learn many relaxation and grounding skills that are helpful to use in many areas of their life. The EMDR therapist follows a carefully prescribed plan for therapy.
If you would like to learn more about EMDR, here are some resources:
Alicia Ceynar, MA, LPC