Trauma Therapies: EMDR and More

Seeking care for a history of trauma?

What is the “right” kind of help for you, and how do you find it?

What makes some people more vulnerable to becoming traumatized after a specific event, while others are able to move on? This article from the National Institute of Mental Health does a really good job at discussing PTSD and talking about what are called “risk factors” (things that make a person vulnerable to becoming affected by trauma) and “resilience factors” (protective factors—things that provide a level of protection against being affected by trauma).

Understanding all aspects of a person’s story, and the type of trauma they have experienced, is an important factor for any clinician who is assessing for care. Consider this: some people grow up in stable loving households, and then sometime in adulthood, they experience something truly upsetting and even life threatening. Given the recent events with climate change, there are many examples to pull from, such as suddenly having to leave one’s home and losing everything to fire. If a person who survives a horrible event like this comes in, they would be addressing an “acute” traumatic stress response—and if that person had a relatively stable past, it would likely be fairly easy to resolve even severe symptoms, particularly if they have plenty of protective factors in place.

Generally, when people come in for care, however, they don’t have just one traumatic experience that they remember. They have many traumatic experiences, over the course of their lives. This often leads to more complex traumatic stress, and requires more sophisticated interventions. Luckily, the field of trauma care has opened up dramatically over the past 20 years, and whereas in the past treatment may have been limited, now, there are many evidence based models of care available to individuals seeking to recover.

EMDR Therapy

Looking for EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. I am an EMDR certified therapist and many people come to me having learned about this therapeutic approach and hoping for relief from the pain of intense anxiety, traumatic stress, and other symptoms that may respond to what truly is a revolutionary approach to working with people.

People often are curious about what EMDR is, how it works, how fast it works, and so forth. There are two websites that do a great job of explaining EMDR—the website for EMDRIA and the website for the EMDR Institute. Please check them out to see if they answer your questions.

When people call and want EMDR therapy, I try to be both hopeful and honest. EMDR is a powerful therapy if and when it is right for you, and has helped many of my clients enormously.  However, many people aren’t ready to start EMDR right away.

EMDR is an intensive form of treatment that can lead to a radical shift in how one lives in the world, because when it works, it will change a person’s relationship to the past. People very quickly go from “reliving the past” to “remembering the past”, and burdening and painful beliefs attached to old experiences resolve quickly.

While this may sound wonderful, for those with complex trauma histories, there is a lot of preparation work to be done before EMDR is going to be helpful or effective. Sometimes, the internal parts of traumatized individuals aren’t ready to let go of negative self-beliefs. These beliefs may have been formed when the person was a young child, and their parents or caregivers told them repeatedly that they didn’t matter or that they were stupid, lazy, or selfish. Children believe what their parents say is true, even if it makes them feel bad. They have no reason to believe that their parents are wrong. Also, to go against a parent means risking survival, because children need their parents for food, shelter, and protection.

Just because the child grows and becomes an adult, such beliefs don’t necessarily change over time. Often people still have a child inside of them that feels just as strongly as ever that everything their parents said about them was true. To release negative beliefs about oneself can feel terrifying, and like an act of betrayal, or self-annihilation. As hard as this may be to understand, it can be even harder for people when they are trying to get better and something inside of them is struggling to let that happen. Our minds are powerful, and because of this, I tend to be careful and take my time in the preparatory phases with EMDR. It is in everyone’s best interest to support the success of the intervention.

That being said, EMDR is an excellent way to work with individuals with trauma, and my training as an EMDR therapist informs almost everything I do. If you are looking for an EMDR therapist and I don't have any openings, or you have any concerns about what I have written above, please click here to see if you can find anyone else in your zip code or region.

Internal Family Systems Therapy

“The Internal Family Systems (IFS) model of psychotherapy offers a clear, non-pathologizing, and empowering method of understanding human problems, as well as an innovative and enriching philosophy of practice that invites both therapist and client to enter into a transformational relationship in which healing can occur.” This quote comes directly from the website of the Center for Self Leadership, which coordinates all trainings and research related to this model. The CSL website is very comprehensive and accessible for individuals interested in learning more about this model.

Over the past 18 months I have taken several one to two day clinical trainings in IFS, and am now involved in a year long online seminar program called “The IFS Circle Program”. I am not an “IFS therapist” because I haven’t started their formal clinical training program, but am familiar with how the model works and am able to incorporate many of the interventions into my work.

My interest in IFS really blossomed after listening to the founder of the model, Richard Schwartz, describe IFS in several podcasts I listened to last year. The interviews I enjoyed the most were on a podcast is called Relationships Alive hosted by Neil Sattin. Dr. Schwartz is a great speaker, and very engaging. I would encourage you to listen to either, or both, of these podcasts to learn more about this model.

26: How to Get All the Parts within You to Work Together (and with Your Partner) with Dick Schwartz 

140: Mastering the Art of Inner Transformation – Internal Family Systems with Dick Schwartz

Somatic Oriented Therapies

There are several schools that teach body oriented trauma care. Some of the best known include Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute , Pat Ogden’s Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute, and the Hakomi Institute.