What is trauma? Traumas are experiences that cause us to develop false beliefs about ourselves or about the world we live in. Most of us have experienced some form of trauma in our lives, whether this was trauma with a capital “T” or trauma with a small “t.” Francine Shapiro, the therapist responsible for EMDR therapy, describes big “T” traumas as the dramatic ones, such as war, assault, rape, disasters, abuse, etc. The list is long.
Little “t” Trauma
Little “t” traumas are not as dramatic, but also pack a punch. These are the traumas that erode our confidence and cause us to develop self-limiting beliefs. For example, someone on the playground making fun of a speech impediment can cause trauma. This experience gives the person the sense that they are not good enough, or that something is wrong with them, both of which are self-limiting beliefs. We call this a “little t” trauma. Other examples include fear of driving because of a car accident, or fear of dentists because of a past incident in which a dental procedure resulted in pain.
How Do We Deal with Trauma?
When something bad happens to us, our minds try to make sense of it through dreams, through talking about it and sharing it with others, and through any other way in which we can help ourselves to deal with the pain of the experience. When these things don’t work, we may deal with it in unhealthy ways – for example, by trying not to think about it, or turning to mood altering substances.
Traumas become locked in the brain in the same way that they are experienced, together with all the accompanying senses – sight, smell, touch, physical sensations, and beliefs. Laurel Parnell says that: “Traumatic events … often get trapped and form a perpetual blockage … like a broken record, they repeat themselves in our body-mind over and over again.” As a result, we become depressed, fearful, self-hating, or believe ourselves to be failures.
How is Trauma Treated?
If you have experienced any of this, there are several therapies that may work to relieve traumas, but two of the most effective I have found are EMDR therapy and Lifespan Integration therapy.
EMDR therapy is a form of therapy that moves information from the dysfunctional to the functional part of the brain, resulting in a person’s ability to heal. According to Parnell, “What EMDR does is remove blockages caused by negative images, beliefs, and body sensations, allowing one’s natural state of well-being and emotional balance to come through”. In EMDR therapy, the client focuses on a troubling memory while doing a series of eye movements with a therapist trained in EMDR. This begins to clear those blockages and allows the client to fully process the memory, with the ultimate goal that the faulty belief that they have about themselves will change. The beauty of EMDR is that the healing comes from within; there is no homework or conscious effort on the part of the person to change. The change for the client comes from within and is permanent.
The second therapy that works to treat trauma is Lifespan Integration. Originally developed by Peggy Pace, this therapy is based on the idea that we are the sum total of all the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that we have had. As we age, we build upon previous experiences – and our interpretation of them. If we have had bad experiences in our lives, they become part of who we are today, just as the good experiences do. So if we were bullied on the playground, the way we thought about it then still significantly impacts who we are today.
By being taken through the timeline of their lives, people can see that they are no longer stuck in the past, and so the traumas begin to heal. Through the repetition of the timeline, the neural pathways are changed, and this results in emotional and behavioral change.
Christian Counseling to Recover from Trauma
These are just two of the therapies available to anyone who wishes to heal hurts from their past, and who wants to live a fuller, happier, and richer life.
“Inside myself . . .” courtesy of Ian Sane, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Peaceful . . . ” courtesy of Olga Lednichenko, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Colors of the Rainbow,” courtesy of Marco Franchino, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)