Trauma therapy considers an individual's unique reaction to conscious and less obvious (unconscious) traumatic events, which may be complex and difficult to predict. There are many factors that influence an individual's reaction including a persons age, past exposure to and experience with trauma, social support or a lack thereof, culture, biological psychiatric history, and general ability to cope or self-regulate. Some people demonstrate an inability to function and experience some level of acute or chronic post-traumatic stress, others may have difficulties adjusting, and some may become stuck and unable to feel whole. The impact of trauma on the brain and body can manifest into a myriad of symptoms and conditions that interrupt function, connection with others, physical and mental health, and overall quality of life.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR therapy training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.
There has been so much research on EMDR therapy that it is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense. Given the worldwide recognition as an effective treatment of trauma, you can easily see how EMDR therapy would be effective in treating the “everyday” memories that are the reason people have low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, and all the myriad problems that bring them in for therapy. Over 100,000 clinicians throughout the world use the therapy. Millions of people have been treated successfully over the past 25 years.
EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment. Eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation) are used during one part of the session. After the clinician has determined which memory to target first, he/she asks the client to hold different aspects of that event or thought in mind and to use his eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision. According to a Harvard researcher, this process is believed to be connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep; internal associations arise and the clients begin to process the memory and disturbing feelings. In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional level. For instance, a rape victim shifts from feeling horror and self-disgust to holding the firm belief that, “I survived it and I am strong.” The insights clients gain in EMDR therapy result not from the clinician's interpretation, but from the client’s own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes. The net effect is that clients conclude EMDR therapy feeling empowered by the very experiences that once debased them. Their wounds have not just closed, they have transformed. As a natural outcome of the EMDR therapeutic process, the clients’ thoughts, feelings and behavior are all robust indicators of emotional health and resolution—all without speaking in detail or doing homework used in other therapies.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Therapists use a variety of techniques to aid clients in reducing traumatic symptoms and improving daily function and quality of life. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that is trauma-informed can be helpful in treating individuals with traumatic life experiences and PTSD. CBT is an approach based on the premise that cognitions influence feelings and behaviors, and that subsequent behaviors and emotions can influence cognitions. The therapist helps individuals identify unhelpful thoughts, emotions and behaviors. CBT has two aspects: behavior therapy and cognitive therapy. Behavior therapy is based on the theory that behavior is learned and therefore can be changed. Cognitive therapy is based on the theory that distressing emotions and maladaptive behaviors are the result of faulty patterns of thinking. Therefore, therapeutic interventions, such as cognitive restructuring, are aimed at replacing such dysfunctional thoughts with more helpful cognitions, which leads to an alleviation of problem thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Skills training (i.e., stress management, social skills, parent training, and anger management is another important part of CBT.
As somatic psychotherapists, we believe there are times when additional modalities will compliment CBT and we will introduce these interventions when appropriate. Somatic psychotherapy, a holistic therapeutic approach, incorporates a person's mind, body, spirit, and emotions in the healing process. Proponents of this type of therapy believe a person's thoughts, attitudes, feelings, and beliefs can have an impact on physical functioning, while physical factors such as eating habits, exercise, and posture may positively or negatively affect a person's mental and emotional state. Thus, those seeking therapy for any number of mental health concerns may consider incorporating somatic therapy into treatment for maximum benefit.
Trauma-Focused CBT/Grief-Focused CBT
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is an individual, short-term treatment (approximately 12-16 weeks of 60-90 minute sessions per week) that involves individual sessions with the child and parent as well as joint parent-child sessions. TF-CBT can help children with significant beavioral or emotional problems that are related to traumatic life events, even if they do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Treatment results in improvements with PTSD symptoms, as well as, in depression, anxiety, behavior problems, sexualized behaviors, trauma related shame, interpersonal trust, and social competence.
The goal of TF-CBT is to help address the biopsychosocial needs of children, with PTSD or other problems related to traumatic life experiences, and their parents or primary caregivers. TF-CBT is a model of psychotherapy that combines trauma-sensitive interventions with cognitive behavioral therapy. Children and parents are provided knowledge and skills related to processing the trauma; managing distressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and enhancing safety, parenting skills, and family communication. Age range of children 3-18.
Somatic Experiencing is a body-oriented approach to the healing of trauma and other stress disorders. It is the life’s work of Dr. Peter A. Levine, resulting from his multidisciplinary study of stress physiology, psychology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics, together with over 45 years of successful clinical application. The SE approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma.
SE offers a framework to assess where a person is “stuck” in the fight, flight or freeze responses and provides clinical tools to resolve these fixated physiological states. It provides effective skills appropriate to a variety of healing professions including mental health, medicine, physical and occupational therapies, bodywork, addiction treatment, first response, education, and others.
Trauma may begin as acute stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end product of cumulative stress. Both types of stress can seriously impair a person’s ability to function with resilience and ease. Trauma may result from a wide variety of stressors such as accidents, invasive medical procedures, sexual or physical assault, emotional abuse, neglect, war, natural disasters, loss, birth trauma, or the corrosive stressors of ongoing fear and conflict.
The SE approach facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body, thus addressing the root cause of trauma symptoms. This is approached by gently guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.
At Equilibriya Behavioral Health & Wellness, Somatic Experiencing may be included as an integral part of somatic psychotherapy and yoga therapy.