Body and mind in trauma

We hold trauma in our bodies, stored as somatic sensations- smell, touch, image, and sound. Taste, temperature, light, darkness, pain, pressure etc. Triggers are the reignition of these sensations when our brain recognises them as a cue to reexperience. We may notice in day-to-day life, our posture, holding of breath, clenching, tightening or freezing in certain situations as our minds and bodies are bracing, reacting to potential threats in the environment.


EMDR, the body and mind connection

Trauma is seared into our body and mind as horror, unspeakable experiences. We struggle to move past, around or through it once it becomes post-traumatic stress as it is stored like a heap of unprocessed material in the corner, while the administrator has neatly labelled, sorted and stored the long- and short-term memories.

Our biological response to trauma is to shut down the thinking, and digestion and to increase heart rate and pulse. With this, there is an increase in adrenaline and cortisol, as the survival instinct attempts to flee or fight. If this seems impossible, the body may seek to appease (fawn) or to freeze or flop (faint or feign death) in an attempt to survive.

These states can become part of a person’s day-to-day experience with PTS and interfere with normal functioning. Some people may dissociate which means they feel floaty, and spacey, outside their body, or as if they or their surroundings are not real.

Some traumas can be called small T, and might be made up of repeated or consistent experiences of fear, loss of connection, feeling unsafe, shamed, uncared for or neglected, might present similarly. Symptoms may be similar to PTS/D and manifest in anxiety, dreams, and difficulties with trust, confidence, or connection. Adults who had childhoods involving these adverse childhood experiences or ACES may struggle with these aspects of life and similarly hold body feelings stored with the repeated events.

EMDR offers a structured therapy, working initially to establish a history of your life and the events, and relationships influencing your story.

We work together to understand what happened to you and how you got to the place you are now. We spend time identifying ways to build up your emotional resources to help you regulate and develop resilience.

Once we have identified some areas of work and you have developed the capacity to tolerate the work and to connect with a sense of safety, we begin to reprocess.

The reprocessing uses taps, tones or eye movements to reprocess the body sensations, beliefs, thoughts, images and emotions which are dysfunctionally stored and give you distance, more neutrality, and a different perspective on the event. In essence after reprocessing the event changes from trauma to a memory, moving it into the filing cabinet.

It has a different impact from talking therapy, as it is based on a body and mind approach, it is using the inner resources to create new meanings, new growth and a greater resilience. It uses the expertise of the practitioner teamed with the inner wisdom you hold.

EMDR works by accessing the neural pathway used in REM sleep when dreaming, which reprocesses the ordinary events of the day. If you observe a baby sleeping you might notice their eyes moving side to side. This movement or bilateral stimulation (tapping/tones/eye movements) reprocesses the information in EMDR therapy.

The butterfly hug which is used as a means of tapping for EMDR, can also be used as a grounding resource with slow taps, and many people find it a soothing way of regulating. Another theory of the efficacy of EMDR involves disrupting the working memory of the traumatically stored material. As you hold your attention on the bilateral stimulation, whilst bringing up the trauma and associated memories and sensations your mind has dual awareness. This allows new connections, perspectives and adaptations to emerge, giving you distance, a new set of beliefs, and clearing the sensations and urges stored in your body.

To find out more about EMDR please contact an accredited practioner through the EMDR association.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Nottingham, NG5
Written by Fiona Corbett, Accredited BACP and EMDR therapist and Clinical Supervisor
Nottingham, NG5

Fiona Corbett BACP and EMDR Association accredited therapist

I work in Nottingham with individuals. My training is in Humanistic counselling, Psychodynamic psychotherapy, and EMDR I also offer supervision. I work with a wide range of issues, including Trauma and ACES.

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