Post-traumatic stress disorder and therapy
When something overwhelming or horrific happens, we have a response that can be either freezing, an urge to fight or run away, or to physically flop. These are survival mechanisms, which are instinctual responses and cannot be chosen.
Sometimes these responses mean the experiences you've had remain unprocessed. This can create reexperiencing of the trauma as flashbacks, and you may (or may not) recognise the triggers. Obviously, this can have a detrimental impact on your life, and you may feel jumpy, irritable, have disturbed sleep, high levels of anxiety or other symptoms.
You may be functioning well in some areas of life, but reminders of the trauma create episodes of intense distress and emotional overwhelm. You might feel low, as you struggle to master your life and regain control, but feel as if you are failing. It may be difficult to contain your feelings or to feel like yourself. Family and friends may find it hard to understand how to help.
How can therapy help?
Eye movement desensitisation reprocessing (EMDR therapy) may be a way to address these symptoms.
EMDR is a therapy developed by Francine Shapiro, in the late 80s. It has since been clinically evaluated and in the UK, is recognised by NICE as an effective treatment for trauma. The therapy uses bilateral stimulation, which is either eye movements, tapping or tones to reprocess traumatic or repeated, distressing, experiences.
EMDR works through a series of phases, where we collaborate to take a history, to prepare you for the reprocessing and equip you with tools to regulate the strong responses you might have. We create a framework for working on the memories/experiences and aim for an order of tackling them.
The reprocessing can be likened to travelling on a train, where you are encouraged to notice the scenery, but not to jump into it.
We cultivate a mindfulness, of observing thoughts, feelings, body sensations and connections. An EMDR therapist will aim to help you stay with what you can tolerate and to use strategies to calm or regulate as needed.
To ensure all the material is processed, the EMDR process involves checking in with your thoughts/beliefs related to this event, with your physical sensations and engaging with a new perspective. The perspective adapts to become more positive, so that, although the event may have been distressing, a new belief about yourself or the way you responded emerges, usually spontaneously, which again we test the validity of, within the EMDR process.
This therapy needs cooperation and a relationship of trust within the therapy. It is more directive than some therapies, but also offers space for imagination and creative responses to thorny problems. There are established practices designed to decrease your sensitivity to distressing material and sensations, which are used to support you before the standard protocol, or during. The therapy aims to put you back in control and to support you to regain your sense of identity and remove the extremities of distress.