Many people think of psychological trauma in a very narrow window. They think trauma memories should only come from major traumatic life events. This leads people to minimize a variety of true trauma memories, saying things like “This should not still bother me, but I can still remember it like it happened yesterday” or “That’s in the past, it’s no big deal”, as they cry or are visibly upset. Any event that creates so much stress, that a person develops a processing conflict is classified trauma.
Memories that get stored in the trauma memory part of our brain can stem from big or small events. They can even come from events we did not directly experience, but heard about and developed images in our minds. What defines a trauma memory is that when you recall a memory it comes forward with surprising details or vividness, it is accompanied by some sort of emotional disturbance, and often there is a negative belief attached to it. The natural reaction is to try to push it out of your mind, but it keeps getting triggered. Often no matter how much you try to forget about it or even talk about it, that memory stays stuck. If this is you, you can benefit from proper treatment of your trauma memories.
How Can We Help
Traditional talk therapy is often not effective for trauma work. Engaging in an evidence-based approach will give you a much better opportunity for healing. These approaches have been used, studied and proven to be effective over decades. The oldest approach, though now seldom used, is Prolonged Exposure therapy. It is effective but because it takes longer to complete. More people drop out of treatment before culmination. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is effective in giving people different ways to think about their trauma memories (coping skills) but often does not alter the negative belief and does not completely diminish the strong negative emotions attached to the memory.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a unique approach. EMDR is designed to decrease disturbances, change the way one recalls their trauma memory, and shift the negative belief to a more accepting perspective. People who complete EMDR therapy often report improved self-esteem and self-worth, ability to establish healthier boundaries in relationships, improved sleep, decreased anger, improved mood, and feeling more emotionally stable. This especially is true for people who work on the “traumas” that you wouldn’t even really think are traumas. Often they are unaware at how much those memories are undermining their sense of well-being.
By: Candise Leininger, LPC & Level 2 trained EMDR Clinician