Comes in many forms
And participates in more disorders than you might think
Barbara Parrett, our EMDR trainer, is talking
about the DSM-IV-TR, the 943-page diagnostic manual used by psychologists and
psychiatrists everywhere. She is saying, "EMDR works with all trauma-based
disorders..." And then she looks at the audience with a twinkle in her eye
and offers, "... and it's all trauma."
Well not quite, but true more often than you might expect. Trauma happens when we are faced with a damaging threat but not able to look after ourselves because we are too young, too small, too inexperienced, too afraid, too weak, or the threat is overwhelming and unstoppable like a natural disaster, an armed criminal assault, a serious accident, and so on. Childhood is a time when we are especially vulnerable, and the traumatic memories that impact us the most can often be from our childhood.
When trauma happens, the memory of that event
is stored in a way that preserves its sensory vividness. When we recall
it, it is as though we are re-living the event, and we react as we did then - if
we ran, we want to run; if we froze, then we freeze; if we felt helpless then,
we feel helpless now. EMDR reprocesses these memories and allows us to be
present here and now.
EMDR works effectively with a very broad spectrum of disorders that have a traumatic component. The more central that trauma is to the disorder, the more effective EMDR is. EMDR is especially effective with victims of abuse, criminal injury, natural disasters, stress and post-traumatic stress, anxiety, panic and phobia. In all of these situations, trauma is the main feature.
Trauma also plays an important role in difficulties where its presence is not so obvious. Think about the problems in a relationship where one partner is a workaholic because of the trauma of being poor as a child. How about the lifelong feeling of helplessness and depression caused by seeing your younger brother victimized and not being able to do anything about it, yet feeling responsible? And what about jealous distrust of your partner when some minor absence triggers memories of a past lovers betrayal? And how about the grief that continues for years because the loss of your partner triggers the abandonment that you experienced as a child?
So trauma can play a central role in disorders that are not so obviously trauma-based. EMDR works well in these situations too.