We Live In a World Engulfed By Trauma
“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence”. – Peter Levine
We live in a world where trauma is inevitable. We hear a lot about troops suffering from the effects of trauma like PTSD after returning from a warzone, but trauma is not only experienced during war. People may encounter trauma from different experiences in every life. There is no fixed characterization of an event that can be “traumatic” as it largely depends on what impact an event leaves on a person. A traumatic event for one person may not be perceived as traumatic by another.
Some events that can result in trauma for people could be
- childhood neglect
- sexual assault
- street crimes
- road accidents or airplane crashes
- loss of loved ones
- natural disasters
- a diagnosis of a chronic illness etc.
In Singapore, people experience trauma sometimes as a result of adverse childhood experiences and at times due to problems presented later in life. The past year has presented a novel way in which trauma has been experienced globally as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Many people around the world have lost their loved ones because of COVID-19. It has been nothing short of a traumatic experience for people, especially doctors and health workers.
The Definition Of Trauma
According to the American Psychological Association, “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.”
Dr. Van der Kolk, an expert on trauma, describes it as “the pain, horror, and fear living inside people” as a result of an event that a person experienced as traumatic.
If a traumatic event is not properly processed and continues to impact the individual; they are likely to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
An Evidence-Based Treatment for Trauma: EMDR
Currently, there are several evidence-based treatments for trauma, of which one is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR was developed in 1988 by Francine Shapiro. This mode of treatment entails the person being treated to recall distressing images from the traumatic event. The therapist then directs the client to bilateral stimulation, for instance, side-to-side eye movements or hand tapping (Shapiro & Solomon, 2010).
EMDR is a form of integrative psychotherapy that takes into account the dysfunctional memories which are stored in the mind as well as the body. Hence, EMDR therapy concentrates on the past (traumatic) events that shaped the present problem, as well present situations in which the problem is encountered. In addition, EMDR therapy also focuses on how the patient would like to handle future challenges (Oren, & Solomon, 2012).
Effectiveness of EMDR
Studies have shown that EMDR changes the structure of the brain, which is affected by experiencing trauma. For instance, in her book, Francine Shapiro illustrates a case of a boy who was raised by a mother with Bipolar Disorder; and thus, experienced numerous traumatic incidents throughout his childhood. An MRI scan showed that he had a quite shrunken hippocampus because of his traumatic childhood. However, after receiving EMDR therapy; brain scan showed that the size of his hippocampus increased by 11 percent (Shapiro, 2012).
Several studies have also pointed to a long-term improvement in clients who receive EMDR therapy for trauma, as compared to those who received standard care for trauma. Follow ups after three and six months of treatment showed long– lasting reduction in symptoms of trauma as compared to those who received other forms of treatment (Marcus, Marquis, & Sakai, 2004).
PTSD can severely impair a person’s ability to maintain and retain relationships. It also impacts one’s ability to work and earn a living. Often, people feel compelled to show a brave smiling face to the world; even though they feel like they are breaking into pieces inside.
EMDR is a way in which traumatic memories can be re-processed and recovered from much more quickly compared to talk therapy and other forms of therapy. EMDR therapy allows one to relive traumatic or triggering memories in small doses while the therapist directs their eye movements. Working with traumatic events in this way is less emotionally charged and allows the client to work through the trauma in a safe and controlled manner.
A Word of Caution
While EMDR is a great tool to access and overcome memories of the traumatic event – for some people it can cause a resurge of traumatic memories. It is essential that the therapist performing EMDR is aware of the challenges which can be encountered during the therapeutic process. EMDR therapists should be able to address challenges which may arise such as increased sensitivity, and recurring distressing thoughts.
Our Psychiatrist, Psychologists and Psychotherapists at Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic have been specially trained in using EMDR with people who have experienced trauma. If you are carrying a traumatic past, or you know someone who is suffering in silence, contact our team to ease your pain and allow yourself to live life to the fullest.
Oren, E., & Solomon, R. (2012). EMDR therapy: An overview of its development and mechanisms of action. European Review of Applied Psychology, 62(4), 197-203.
Shapiro, F. (2012). Getting past your past: Take control of your life with self-help techniques from EMDR therapy. Rodale.
Shapiro, F., & Solomon, R. M. (2010). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. The Corsini encyclopedia of psychology, 1-3.
Marcus, S., Marquis, P., & Sakai, C. (2004). Three- and 6-Month Follow-Up of EMDR Treatment of PTSD in an HMO Setting. International Journal of Stress Management, 11(3), 195–208. https://doi.org/10.1037/1072-5245.11.3.195