Kirsten Bolt, MED, LMFT – Originally posted on Open Sky Wilderness website
Earlier in my career, I felt something missing from the treatment I was able to provide some of my adolescent girl clients. Many of these clients had experienced traumatic events that often manifested in the field. Therapy sometimes was particularly complicated because those incidents tend to be deeply intertwined with other treatment issues (identity, interpersonal relationships, emotional regulation and communication issues, depression and anxiety, substance use, promiscuity, self-harm or suicidality, personality disorders, etc). It was frequently reminiscent of the “whack-a-mole” arcade game.
At that time, I was aware of therapeutic modalities that facilitated trauma healing but had no training of my own. Accordingly, I steered clear of directly addressing such work. As girls’ past traumatic events surfaced in the field, I would help them by teaching coping skills, validating their painful experiences, challenging their belief systems about what occurred (e.g., personal responsibility and self-worth), and laying a foundation for future trauma work – all very necessary and beneficial. But we could never actually resolve the trauma itself. I was often left thinking I could better serve our girls … if only….
I decided to pursue training in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR therapy. In a nutshell, EMDR utilizes bilateral stimulation (left-right patterns of sensory input) as a way to reprocess traumatic experiences and develop adaptive core beliefs, providing relief from “frozen” neural pathways. In other words, this treatment modality allows us to move a stuck memory through the brain so that we can process it, resulting in decreased sensitivity to that memory. EMDR is a proven treatment that has been used to address trauma and a wide variety of other clinical issues, as well as the underlying negative core beliefs about oneself.
Traumatic experiences, by definition, are very subjective. Essentially, trauma is any event or situation that overwhelms one’s ability to cope or manage. With this definition, it is easy to imagine how something might be traumatic for one person but not for another. It has more to do with the brain’s response to those events and the person’s resources to properly cope with the situation. It does not have to be a massive incident. While such significant events are traumatic for many, less substantive experiences can be traumatic for others. Trauma can range from natural disasters, abuse, and terrorist attacks, to grief, accidents, or chronic pain, and anything in-between.