Treatment of trauma rests on the foundation that trauma brain or trauma-based body chemistry can be changed first through skill-based techniques to “stabilize” clients, and then to reprocess the trauma.
1. Strategies to Stabilize
Yoga practiced regularly is suggested but I have to be honest, I personally, am not a yoga person although I do find any centering technique can help to stabilize. My recommended strategies are mindfulness meditation, resourcing, guided meditation, exercise, stretching, and being with pets. These experiential approaches assist in helping individuals’ nervous systems relax. Anyone with a history of trauma knows that this is difficult to do. This part of the process can take several months to years depending on an individuals knowledge of skills and ability to utilize them regularly.
Once a person can manage the ups and downs of their chemistry, therapists can utilize processes to reprocess the trauma in an adaptive way. Some techniques look at releasing the stored “energy” or body sensations associated with the trauma, known as Somatic Experiencing. Other techniques use guided meditation to release the disturbing images and feelings/sensations.
The technique I use addresses systematically going through traumatic events using bilateral stimulation to reprocess events in an adaptive way. This is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR is an effective approach that uses eye movement similar to REM sleep, along with concentrating on disturbing images to change processing through desensitization and thus changing body chemistry. This will change the way individuals respond to current triggers, and their response to past trauma.
3. Last Step = Current Triggers and Future Templates
The last piece of trauma work is managing current triggers and future templates when symptoms occur. Once the big chunks or traumas are reprocessed with EMDR, current triggers and future templates can be worked through with EMDR, DBT, guided meditation, or resourcing. Sometimes this is done during the EMDR processing and sometimes current triggers will resolve themselves before this point. There is no way to predict what is done next. Every case is different.
4. Things to Consider
Most individuals respond to EMDR processing, but a few do not. EMDR work is challenging. All too often, avoidance is a common reaction to trauma, because it helps individuals manage trauma symptoms in their daily lives. Individuals avoid thinking of traumatic events and since EMDR goes through these avoided memories, some do not wish to engage in it.
While it is difficult work, the beauty of EMDR is that it can resurface repressed feelings and memories in small manageable ways and then clear them up. I like to call it clearing it up because it reprocesses memories until there is no distress. Imagine disturbing memories no longer having the overwhelming sting as they float in your mind. For most trauma sufferers they say this is impossible. But so many times I have seen it work. But each individual must choose.
For those who do not like this process, there are other methods that are not evidence-based and are less aversive. I have not made a decision about the less aversive processes because I am an EMDR therapist. However, I always continue learning and may have a verdict on this method in the future.