A trauma is a very distressing or disturbing event that can be either physical or emotional and result in significant damage to a person’s psychological development. It can occur as a result of either a single event, or long lasting or repeated events that are overwhelming, affecting the ability to cope or make sense of what happened. Examples include:
• Serious accidents e.g. RTA (road traffic accident)
• Being told you have a life threatening illness
• Physical, emotional or sexual abuse
• Natural or man-made disasters
• Being taken hostage
Everyone has different ways of responding to events so what one individual finds traumatic, another may not find as distressing. Some individuals may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a severe anxiety disorder. Symptoms include:
• Constantly thinking about the event
• Images of the event coming into your mind (known as flashbacks)
• Difficulty sleeping and/or nightmares
• Changes in how you feel emotionally, for example feeling very frightened, anxious, angry, low in mood
• Avoiding certain situations that remind you of the event
• Feeling numb, stunned, shocked or dazed and having difficulties connecting with life around you
• Denying that the event actually happened
• Concentration and memory problems.
In addition, a wide range of emotions may be experienced including:
• Anger - in relation to what happened to you and with the person who was responsible
• Guilt – that you think you could or should have done something to prevent what happened, or that you survived when others suffered or died
• Fear – that the same event may happen again or that you feel you are unable to cope with your feelings and that you are not in control of your life
• Helplessness – that you were unable to do something about what happened
• Sadness – that the trauma happened, particularly if someone you knew was injured or killed
• Shame or embarrassment – about what happened and feeling that you cannot tell anyone.
In most cases, the emotional reactions will get better over the days and weeks that follow a trauma. However, in some cases the effects of a trauma can be longer lasting and continue for months and even years after the event. Receiving the appropriate type of support can help you come to terms with the traumatic experience so that it does not continue to affect you for the rest of your life.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) is a form of psychological intervention developed by Dr Francine Shapiro in 1987 in the United States of America. It is now accepted as one of the treatments of choices for PTSD in adults (NICE guidelines) and scientific research for EMDR with children and adolescents is constantly increasing as well. It works on the basis that when an individual experiences a distressing event, the memory of that trauma can become frozen on a neurological level and the brain is unable to process the memory. If the memory remains frozen and unprocessed it can be easily accessed by triggers (smells, sounds, images, feelings, etc) that remind the individual of the trauma and can make them feel as though they are re-experiencing it. Nightmares and flashbacks also very common and work at ‘keeping the memory alive’.
EMDR works by stimulating the brain from left to right using either eye movements, tapping or sounds to help the brain to unblock the frozen disturbing memory so that it is processed and no longer causes any distress. EMDR is thought to be working in a similar way to what happens during certain states of sleep (rapid eye movement or REM) when we mostly experience dreams.