Dr. Angela Hanford
Sandy was in a rollover car accident that left her with a few scratches, while her son was hospitalized with internal injuries. Everyone has recovered physically, but Sandy is unable to drive her car without the trauma effects of extreme anxiety or a panic attack. She avoids freeways at all costs. Her guilt is overwhelming when she thinks of her son’s recovery.
Mike was blindsided when his wife served him with divorce papers after fifteen years of marriage. He has lost his stability and fears for the future. His anxiety is at an all-time high, to the point that he has difficulty functioning at work.
Ashley served two tours in Iraq with the army where she saw things that she never imagined she would see. The flashbacks come out of nowhere and she can barely sleep at night. She has trouble concentrating at work and always feels on edge.
Vivian’s family lost all their belongings in a recent wildfire that decimated their small town. Each family member is struggling in his or her own way. Viviane is fearful and constantly checks for smoke. She cannot relax and feels depressed most of the time.
Each of these individuals has experienced a traumatic event or events. Some people recognize that they have been impacted by trauma and actively seek therapy to work through their trauma effects experiences. Others may not realize that what they have experienced is considered trauma. In fact, many people live for years with trauma and its effects not realizing that help is available.
What is Trauma?
A trauma is “an emotional response to a terrible event” (American Psychological Association, 2020). Almost anything can be considered trauma depending on a person’s interpretation and reaction to the event. Examples of potentially traumatic events include:
- The sudden or suffering death of a loved one
- The constant concern and crisis of a loved one struggling with addiction
- Domestic violence
- A natural disaster
- A school or community shooting
- Sexual assault
- Fleeing political violence and the plight of a refugee
- Abuse – physical, sexual, emotional, neglect
- A major illness or surgery
- Any loss of relationship
A traumatic event can lead to distressing trauma symptoms that interfere with one’s life, with some people developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, everyone responds to events differently, so not everyone will develop symptoms of trauma.
What are the Symptoms of Trauma?
Responses to trauma vary from person to person and, therefore, symptoms of trauma also vary. Common symptoms of trauma may include (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2014; Healthline Media, 2016):
- Feeling numb
- Feeling Disconnected
- Emotional symptoms such as anxiety, panic attacks, fear, sadness, shame, hopelessness, mood swings, anger, irritability, guilt
- Difficulty concentrating/making decisions
- Easily Startled
- Racing Heart
- Memory difficulties
- Headache, muscle aches
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Changes in eating habits
This list is not exhaustive but provides a glimpse into the possible consequences of trauma.
What Hope Does the Bible Give for Trauma?
There are many Bible verses that are applicable to trauma and that can provide reassurance and peace. Here is a sampling of six scriptures to provide comfort and hope amid trauma:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matthew 11: 28-30
Cast all of your anxieties on Him because He cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7
I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all of my fears. – Psalm 34:4
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him. – Lamentations 3: 21-24
He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings, you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. – Psalm 91: 4-6
It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. – Deuteronomy 31:8
What Type of Therapy Works for Resolving Trauma?There are several modalities of therapy that can effectively help individuals overcome trauma. Examples of evidence-based trauma therapies include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR), Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Neurofeedback. Today we will focus on EMDR.
EMDR Therapy was developed in the 1980s by Francine Shapiro and is an evidence-based therapy for treating various types of traumas. EMDR is an effective form of therapy that has helped millions of individuals of all ages to recover from trauma.
We know that the brain can heal and change throughout one’s lifetime. EMDR therapy helps the brain reprocess trauma so that it is stored adaptively. Bilateral stimulation (BLS) is used to install coping resources and to facilitate memory reprocessing. Originally the BLS consisted of eye movements from side to side, but BLS may also be sound or physically tapping (e.g., tapping on the knees). It should be noted that EMDR is not a form of hypnosis.
In EMDR therapy, the counselor works with you to identify past experiences that are not fully processed and, therefore, result in strong emotional and/or physical reactions and negative beliefs about oneself (e.g., “I am bad” or “I am not safe”). Before starting to reprocess the memory, your therapist will work with you to develop resources (e.g., relaxation, safe/calm place visualization) to cope with strong emotions that may come up during reprocessing.
During the process of EMDR, once the counselor has identified an experience to zero in on, he or she will ask the individual to focus on that experience while the therapist administers BLS. As this happens, the client begins to reprocess the memory and associated memories, feelings, body sensations, and/or negative beliefs that arise.
When EMDR Therapy is successful, the meaning of that painful memory or event will be reprocessed in the mind and the individual will go from maladaptive to adaptive responses. For example, if an individual holds a belief such as “I’m unlovable” following domestic violence, she might reprocess that to believing, “I am loveable.”
Along with the standard protocol for EMDR, there are protocols that address specific concerns. For example, The Recent Events Protocol (R-TEP) is used to target recent events, while the Group Recent Events Protocol (G-TEP) is used in a group setting. There have even been studies that show using an early intervention could prevent PTSD from developing.
Numerous studies have shown the positive effect of EMDR therapy and its ability to help individuals heal from trauma and reprocess emotions and experiences. EMDR Therapy may be a little difficult to comprehend, which is why it is good to discuss any concerns with a counselor.
Treatment for trauma can be very effective. It may be scary to reach out for support in processing through traumatic events, but we have caring therapist who are here to help. If you would like to talk with a therapist about EMDR or want to work with us to overcome your trauma, please reach out to us today!
Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy – Francine Shapiro (2013)
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – Bessel van der Kolk (2015)
American Psychological Association (2020). Trauma. https://www.apa.org/topics/. Retrieved on 10/11/2020.
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2014. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57.) Chapter 3, Understanding the Impact of Trauma. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191/. Retrieved 10/11/2020.
Healthline Media. (2016). Traumatic Events. https://www.healthline.com/health/traumatic-events#responses-to-trauma. Retrieved on 10/11/2020.
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