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How Understanding and Treating Trauma?

Written By sholeh on Friday, December 9, 2011 | 9:54 PM

Most of us are familiar with "capital T" traumas: a soldier returning from combat; a survivor of a natural disaster; a victim of abuse. In the case of a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a back-firing truck may serve to trigger stored memories. The soldier in effect finds himself transported back to the battlefield, seeing the color of rockets in the night sky, hearing the cries of his wounded comrades, feeling as if he is about to die. Without treatment, these memories continue unabated, leading to the familiar symptoms of hypervigilance, nightmares, hallucinations, and estrangement. Similar symptoms may be experienced by the disaster survivor or the abuse victim. We recognize the dramatic nature of the symptoms and the events that precipitated them.

"Small T" trauma, though perhaps less dramatic in its symptoms, can have a pervasive negative effect on a person's life. And while few of us experience natural disasters, virtually no one gets through life without experiencing "small T" traumas such as physical or emotional neglect, witnessing parental conflict or abuse, bullying or excessive teasing, loss of a loved one, humiliation or failure, or unresolved guilt. We may understand trauma as any experience of threat to the organism that overwhelms it. Another definition would be an unhealed wound in our equilibrium. When stressed, we try to regain our biological and chemical equilibrium. Trauma may result when our coping systems simply become overwhelmed. Our brain, instead of processing the experience, stows it away where it festers and negatively impacts our ability to deal with the world. Unresolved trauma tends to sap our ego strength and diminish our self-esteem. A general belief in our own inability to cope gains strength with every repetition and tends to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Trauma often lies at the root of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, and other psychological problems.

The most efficacious treatment of "capital T" trauma has been repeatedly verified through experimental research. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has emerged as the treatment of choice for dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although the exact mechanism remains to be determined in detail, EMDR essentially puts mis-filed memories in touch with the part of the brain that can successfully process them.
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