Most of us think that trauma is caused by a large scale or catastrophic event such as a war, surviving a natural disaster, (such as a tsunami or an earthquake) or some form of serious abuse, but by dictionary definition trauma is any event that has had a lasting negative effect.
This opens up the possibilty that many people will have suffered some form of trauma in their lives, and may still be suffering because of it. What may be normal and harmless for one person can be shocking and traumatic for another; it is a very individual and personal matter. Even common or seemingly "not unusual" events can be experienced as traumatic; for example a child might witness their parents arguing and physically attacking each other; a student may be beaten, humiliated or bullied at school, an employee may be continually ignored or made to feel foolish and stupid. This can be devastating. The sufferer may continue to carry around the painful, negative feelings that they experienced during that time, and this will have an impact on their thoughts, feelings and behaviours in the present.
As we continually experience things our minds generally process the information in a way that will help us. So, for example, if we touch a hot cooker we will register that it is hot and burns us, and learn not to do that again. In normal circumstances, when upsetting memories are processed we can transform the thoughts, related emotions and bodily responses into adaptive ones that will help us in our future lives.
In an healthy state of mind, when we need to work something out we can pull on a vast store of chronological memories that are networked together, and use these to figure out the best way to achieve what we desire; however, when we experience something we perceive as traumatic this processing is blocked and is not able to happen. Instead the memories are stored away, unprocessed in a way that is unrelated to time (i.e .we can relive the experience as if it were still real).
The body responds each time these memories are activated. This can be through very simple triggers, such as a rape victim seeing a man wearing a baseball cap just like the baseball cap worn by the man who raped them. Memories, thoughts, emotions and bodily feelings will come flooding back, old belief systems will be activated and old maladaptive patterns of behaviour will begin to manifest, almost always leading to severe negative consequences in the life of the suffering individual.
EMDR works by using bilateral stimulation (engaging both hemispheres of the brain through various forms of stimulation such as eye movements or tapping) to access the deeper store of unconscious memories and beliefs. The mind is as able to heal as the body, and is very quick to do so when given the right circumstances. Through bilateral stimulation, whilst concentrating on the traumatic, anxious or otherwise undesirable feelings, the body and mind are able, bit by bit, to uncover the deeper memories at the root of the current problems. It can then reprocess the painful, negative feelings attached to the memories in a healthy and appropriate way. Often a patient will remember things of great significance; events that they thought they had entirely forgotten. They can make momentous realisations that will alter the way they perceive themselves, bring about seismic shifts in their belief structures and trigger a complete overhaul of their relationship to their own past. They can, in this way, help to rid themselves of the unwanted 'ghosts" of their lives and be free to experience life-enhancing emotions and make more conscious decisions.
EMDR is a therapeutic process that requires the therapist and client to develop a relationship and understanding of the way the client relates to their trauma. However, it is not always necessary to go over the details of the trauma as this can be re-traumatising. It may take several session before it is considered beneficial to start the EMDR process itself. Before hand you will probably talk about how it has affected you and what you currently do to manage your distress around it. You may also talk about developing new strategies to stay emotionally in control.
During the actual EMDR session you will focus on a trigger and get in touch with where in the body you experience the unease. Then you will simply focus on the therapist's fingers as they move repeatedly across your field of vision at a safe distance, whilst you allow your mind to move with the memories or feelings. that come up. The therapist will guide you through several sets of these and talk to you between each set to see how you are processing your experiences. It is not hypnotism and at all times you will be encouraged to take control of the situation so that it goes at a pace you feel comfortable with.
This is different for everyone, but the aim is that although you will not forget the trauma, you will no longer feel the automatic distress when you think about it. It will seem more distant or remote and you should no longer be triggered into a strong emotional reaction when something related to it crops up for you.
It may take several sessions to full process each trauma, although this is not necessarily so. It usually spends on water the trauma was a single event or happened over a period of time, as well as your normal emotional and mental resilience.
My aim is always to support you through your own process to a healthier emotional and mental state. This takes a different amount of time for each person and depends how much time and effort you are able to put into your therapy. EMDR may take just a few sessions if the trauma is a single incident and you felt emotionally strong and stable beforehand.
If you feel that you had struggled with your emotional and/or mental health for much of your life then the therapy would need to become deeper and spread over a period of time to allow you to make changes; talking therapy would become an integral part of the process of EMDR.
It may take several sessions to full process each traumatic incident, although this is not necessarily so. as often unlocking a few seem to then clear the others.