Trauma in the Brain & Body
When a person experiences a traumatic event, adrenalin rushes through the body and the emotional significance of the memory is imprinted into part of the limbic system. It also stores the visual images of trauma as sensory fragments, which means the trauma memory is not stored like a story, but by how our five senses were experiencing the trauma at the time it was occurring. The memories are stored through fragments of visual images, smells, sounds, tastes, or touch.
Consequently, after trauma, the brain can easily be triggered by sensory input, reading normal circumstances as dangerous. The sensory fragments are misinterpreted and the brain loses its ability to discriminate between what is threatening and what is normal.
The rational, front part of our brain is where consciousness lives, processing and reasoning occur and we make meaning of language. When a trauma occurs, the brain becomes somewhat disorganized and overwhelmed, while the body goes into a survival mode and shuts down the higher reasoning and language structures of the brain. The result of the metabolic shutdown is a profound imprinted stress response – Fight , Flight or Freeze.
Why Use Brain-Based Therapies?
Traditional trauma therapies have been based on the belief that the best way heal PTSD symptoms is to deal with it in the “thinking” part of the brain, through talk therapy. Talking through the story and making meaning was thought to help a person understand the trauma and slowly desensitize themselves to the emotional intensity of it. The goal was to try to deal with the story in the rational part of the brain and, although these therapies were helpful to a point, they did not address the sensory responses in the body.
In the last 18 years, through brain scan technology we have gained insight into the difference between what happens when people talk about past trauma and what happens when their body is re-experiencing it. We have learned that talk therapy attempts to engage parts of the brain that are “off-line” and therefore is not able to resolve the trauma when people are in hyperdistressed states.
A leading psychiatrist in the trauma field, Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD, says, “Traditionally we’ve tried to heal PTSD through talking and making meaning of the event, but treatment methods that help calm arousal systems in the deeper regions of the brain have been helpful in calming PTSD more than those that try to do so through talking and reasoning.” He calls this “bottom-up processing.”
Common Issues Brain-Based Therapies Are Used to Treat:
- Single incident traumas (such as car accidents, destructive weather events, being robbed, etc.)
- Relationship difficulties
- Domestic violence
- Performance anxiety (Musicians, Athletes & Actors)
- Migraines & Chronic Pain
- Negative beliefs about yourself or body image
- Fear of Success or Failure
- Fear of Flying
- Feeling stuck in life
- Childhood Abuse and Neglect
- Sexual assaults or physical assaults
- Social anxiety
- Feelings of rejection
- Trust issues/affairs
What is Brainspotting?
Brainspotting is a trauma therapy that works with the deep brain and the body through its direct access to the autonomic and limbic systems within the body’s central nervous system. It is considered a treatment with profound psychological, emotional, and physical benefits.T
his therapy gives us a tool to locate, process and release experiences that are typically out of reach of the conscious mind. These are things we often struggle to even put into thoughts and words.
It is theorized that Brainspotting taps into the body’s natural self-scanning abilities to process and release areas which are in a state of survival mode. This may also explain the ability of this therapy to often reduce and eliminate body pain and tension associated with physical conditions.
Below you can watch a Q&A with Cynthia Schwartzberg and Lisa Terry about Brainspotting. Cynthia is the President of Southeast Brainspotting Institute and trained with the creator of Brainspotting David Grand.
What is Eye Movement Desensitization (EMDR)?
When we go through something painful or traumatic, our brains can have difficulty processing or ‘digesting’ the experience. The painful memory can become stuck in our memory network along with the sensory information from when the experience happened. This is why certain smells, sights, textures and tastes may bring back the memory of that experience in a very clear, and disturbing way. Even if it happened years ago, it can feel as if it happened today.
EMDR helps to “unlock” those disturbing memories and experiences through Bi-Lateral Stimulation (BLS). BLS can take many forms, including eye movements, tones, tapping and/or tactile ‘pulsers’. By alternating stimulation of both hemispheres of the brain, new insights often occur as the issues become unstuck allowing the client to make sense of them. This allows the client to have one foot in the past and one foot in the present while remaining safe and in control.
The memories themselves do not disappear, however your relationship to the memory will likely change, making the memory feel much less scary and painful, both in your mind and body. 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.” Unlike talk therapy, the insights clients gain in EMDR therapy result not so much from clinician 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.
Clients who recieve EMDR Therapy often report feeling increased confidence, positve self-image, more control over their emotions and a sense of freedom from past experiences, phobias and fears.
Extended sessions of 1.5 hours are recommended to allow you to explore more deeply into the processing and stay there longer–and therefore heal more quickly.
For more info about EMDR Therapy, please visit www.emdr.com
The following practitioners are trained in EMDR and/or Brainspotting. Click on their profiles to learn more.