Many people experience some level of trauma at some point in their life. If you’re one of them, hopefully you were able to cope and move on. Perhaps friends and family helped you through a loved one’s death. Or maybe you sought therapy for combat trauma and came out on top.
Sadly, it’s all too common for trauma to go unresolved, causing severe pain that never goes away.
Are you suffering from emotional or physical pain?
Do you feel like there’s something holding your life back?
Perhaps you have unresolved trauma.
Trauma may be stuck in your brain’s limbic system, also known as “the emotional brain.” But thanks to a unique form of therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), you can get it unstuck.
Here’s how all of this connects:
The Limbic System
First, let’s talk about the limbic system. Here are its main components, along with basic descriptions of their roles in regulating emotions, as summarized by Jeffrey Walsh at Khan Academy:
• Thalamus: A “relay station” of sorts for sensory input, which passes through the thalamus before being directed to other parts of the brain.
• Amygdala: Governs things like fear, anxiety, anger, and violence; sometimes referred to as the aggression center.
• Hippocampus: Helps create short-term memories and turn them into long-term memories.
• Hypothalamus: Regulates the autonomic nervous system by releasing hormones like adrenaline; this is where the fight/flight response originates.
Now, the limbic system is a complex animal with other roles to play, but you can probably see why people call it the emotional brain. Your senses, behaviors, memories, and hormones – all closely tied to emotion – are processed here.
Trauma routes directly to the limbic system. Thus, mental healing is blocked if trauma is poorly processed. Furthermore, long-term emotional distress (and often physical pain) are triggered by the events of everyday life. In addition, unresolved trauma often manifests in these disorders:
• Post-traumatic stress disorder (both single-event and complex forms)
• Test/performance anxiety
• General anxiety/depression
• Panic attacks
• Eating disorders
• Chronic physical pain
Francine Shapiro, developer of EMDR and founder of The EMDR Institute, connects the dots to EMDR on The EMDR Institute’s website:
“EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing of the traumatic memory network so that information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information. These new associations are thought to result in complete information processing, new learning, elimination of emotional distress, and development of cognitive insights.”
To simplify, let’s look at how EMDR therapy operates both on the outside and on the inside.
On the outside, the EMDR therapist 1) guides the client through brief episodes of recalling distress, and 2) simultaneously introduces new sensory input in the form of bilateral stimulation. This input usually involves rhythmic eye movements (thus EMDR’s name), but it can also be tactile (tapping the hand) or auditory (making sounds).
So, what’s happening on the inside? The limbic system is gaining new sensory information and new associations that allow it to process and/or replace the trauma and undo the blockage. Moreover, you might call it a clever trick that takes advantage of how the emotional brain receives and handles data.
Whatever you call it, research shows EMDR to be highly effective and often really fast. Some single-event trauma victims find relief in as few as three 90-minute sessions.
Ready to get your life back?
If you think you might be suffering from unresolved trauma, you can get your life back, and I would like to help. Please contact me via voicemail or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Linda K. Laffey, MFT