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By Katie Bailey, MA, LPC

We all know how hard life is sometimes. No one escapes struggles and heartaches. Sometimes those experiences are big “T” traumas, like sexual assaults, plane crashes, or public shootings. More often, people have to deal with little “t” traumas, such as divorce, constant relational conflict, or even having a new baby. All traumas are significant, and all of these experiences overwhelm us beyond our ability to cope.

Have you had such an overwhelming experience that impacts how you live today? Maybe you feel irritable most of time, worry constantly, isolate yourself from others, or having angry outbursts. Perhaps you can’t feel any positive emotions, you don’t enjoy anything in life anymore, or nightmares keep you from sleep. All of these emotions are normal reactions to trauma.

Whenever you experience a threatening situation, your brain responds with fight, flight, or freeze. You either strike back, run for safety, or actually freeze in place. Any of these responses is your brain’s way of attempting to protect you. When your brain senses danger, your logical brain where you store memories, the hippocampus, goes offline. Your alarm bell, the amygdala, sets the fight, flight, or freeze response in place. Your body is on alert, ready to react. When your brain is in this high alert mode, memories do not get processed properly. So then, after a traumatic event, most people have intrusive memories come back at various times, over and over. Often times people try to avoid these trauma memories, and this can look like many different things, such as drugs, alcohol, isolation, panic attacks, and nightmares.

Here is where EMDR comes in. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. That’s a mouth full. What EMDR does is help your brain process those trauma memories to be able to get them out of the alert part of your brain to the logical part of your brain. Think of it like this: a traumatic memory is like record skipping over and over in your head, and EMDR helps get the record to play forward. Here’s how EMDR helps:

  1. EMDR allows your brain to process the memory now, in a safe place, with a trusted therapist.The upsetting memories are on replay in your mind because of the way your brain tries to help you during super stressful events. When you face those memories in therapy, you are in a safe place. Hopefully you are with a therapist who makes you feel safe to share what you are really thinking and feeling and won’t be hurt again. In the context of this safe place, your brain doesn’t have to be on “alert mode” and can process the disturbing memories more fully. EMDR, the stimulation of both sides of your brain, gets your brain to process those memories in a helpful manner.
  2. EMDR takes decreases the emotional reaction, allowing your working memory to help you see the event from a new perspective.One of the beautiful things I love about EMDR is watching my clients face their upsetting memories and seeing them get some emotional space. I tell clients when doing EMDR to imagine they are watching a movie, or just watching the scenery go by from a train window. The client is more of an observer of the memory than an active player. This distance brings relief and makes processing the event easier. Also, your brain is then able to see the event from a different perspective. I love when clients tell me their memories seem less colorful, or even blurry, indicating those memories have lost some of their punch. Memories will never disappear, but when you look back at them, you should have a different reaction, they should have less “sting”.
  3. Once you fully process the memory, EMDR helps you focus on the future, and how you want to think and react going forward.When we have processed the stressful memories to the point that it no longer causes disturbance, we can focus on the future. We talk about what the bad memories made you believe about yourself, how those were lies, and what truth about yourself you can live out going forward. So much of how we relate to others comes from what we believe about ourselves, and when we have had a trauma, we often think very little of ourselves. My goal is to help you see how strong you are, how valuable and loved you are, and to live out life in light of this truth.

At Lime Tree Counseling, this is my passion. I have worked as a professional counselor for years, and from the beginning have loved the privilege of helping others face their disturbing memories that impact their lives today. I offer PTSD treatment, including EMDR, for anyone who has experienced a stressful event such as childhood sexual abuse, rape, emotional abuse, a significant loss, or neglect. If you have had a disturbing experience that is affecting how you live your life now, please contact me for a free consult and to set up an appointment. I’d love to help you process those memories and take away their power over you.