Therapy of Trauma

A relatively new type of trauma therapy, called EMDR, is gaining attention especially after events such as the gunman in Las Vegas, the riots in Virginia and even the nightclub shooting in Orlando. According to Maryana Harrelson, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) at the Life Change Group, who practices EMDR, “These headlines are all too common, and it highlights the effects that trauma and traumatic events can have on those directly and indirectly involved. We specialize in EMDR and provide counseling and therapy to individuals and families that have undergone trauma in their lives.”

Everyone has gone through trauma or some traumatic experience in life – maybe not something as high profile as what happened in Las Vegas or the Orlando nightclub, but in some way. We all have different abilities to cope, access to resources, and resilience levels to help overcome the effects of trauma. In fact, many people who seek therapy have history of trauma in the past and/or present.

What is Trauma?

Wikipedia defines trauma as “…often the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one’s ability to cope, or integrate the emotions involved with that experience.” Unresolved trauma can cause serious emotional and/or physical disturbances, anxiety, depression, low-self esteem, development of negative beliefs, and other mental health issues. These problems can be effectively treated with trauma brain-based treatment approaches such as EMDR therapy and brainspotting (more on that, later).

What is EMDR?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a therapy approach developed by Francine Shapiro at the end of the 1980’s. EMDR therapy has been researched and proven as a highly effective treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other trauma related issues. This approach integrates many psychological theories and psychotherapeutic modalities.  EMDR is also highly effective in treating anxiety, depression, phobias, addiction, OCD, low self-esteem, complicated grief, loss, etc.   The EMDR Resource Model is applied at the beginning of the treatment to prepare an individual for trauma work, and it contains many useful techniques to develop coping strategies, positive inner resources, and resilience level.

Does EMDR Work?

By data posted on, “The research studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions.  Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer were diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions. In another study, 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions. EMDR therapy is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, and the Department of Defense.”

What is the AIPM?

The effectiveness of EMDR is based on the Adaptive Information Processing Model, which means that our brain has a natural tendency to move toward wholeness, health, and the capacity to heal itself. Memory plays a tremendous role in our functioning and learning processes. During some traumatic events, the brain becomes overwhelmed, and if a person does not have the necessary resources to process the trauma, the natural Adaptive Information Process in our brain becomes blocked, and memories are stored in a way that does not allow the brain to connect to the adaptive memory network. Traumatic memories that are stored in a dysfunctional way become frozen in time; thus, when triggered by stimuli in the present, they result in pathological responses to the situations that have little or no danger.

Determining a Triggering Stimulus

When there is a triggering stimulus of the area of the brain where the “frozen in time” memories, emotions, and body sensations are stuck, the individual begins reliving past trauma as if it were happening in the present. Meanwhile, the rational part of the brain has very little or no control of the brain; thus it becomes extremely difficult to control the impulses and provide more rational responses to the situation. EMDR helps to unfreeze these dysfunctional memories, desensitize strong negative emotions and body sensations associated with trauma, and restore the brain connection with an adaptive positive experience network to develop positive perspectives and adaptive beliefs.

What is Brainspotting?

Brainspotting is another brain based powerful approach that uses the body’s innate self-scanning and healing capacities to process and release core neurophysiologic sources of trauma and its physiological symptoms in the deep levels of the brain. The therapist helps a client to find a “Brainspot” which represents a specific eye position that leads to the brain area where the traumatic memories were stored and “got stuck.” Adding bilateral sounds or tones that enhance the brain’s ability to process trauma by integration of the right and left hemispheres of the brain, the therapist helps an individual to access the deep subconscious brain where the trauma got stuck in order to release the traumatic emotions and body sensations and to process the traumatic memories allowing a new perspective and healthy resolution. According to some researches, Brainspotting is shown to be even more effective than EMDR.

Written by: Maryana Harrelson, LPC, Gestalt-therapist, EMDR and Brainspotting Practitioner.