What Is Trauma and PTSD?
Psychological or emotional trauma happens when a person experiences something so frightening or painful, it shatters their basic sense of safety and security in the world and overwhelms their mind’s ability to cope with or make sense of the experience.
A trauma can be a single, terrible experience, such as a car accident, or a long series of events of living with an unbearable situation. The common feature of all trauma is that there was no one to protect you or help make adequate sense of the situation, and there was no way to escape.
As a result, in order to keep living and functioning until the traumatic situation was over, the emotional mind protects itself by shutting down and keeping away the thoughts and emotions that the traumatic situation cause. But the feelings that have been avoided do not simply go away. In trauma, they re-emerge, sometimes weeks, months or even years after the traumatic event.
I can help. Working together, you and I can finally put the past truly in the past.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
A proven approach for safely accessing and releasing locked-in traumatic memories
Psychological trauma is not only terrible to live through; it often can be very difficult to get over. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an effective tool for treating certain types of anxiety disorders, and for alleviating the pain and distress caused by many forms of psychological trauma. I’m certified in EMDR, and have used it as part of what I offer to my clients for more than 20 years.
Why Is PTSD Hard to Treat?
It would seem as though conventional therapy methods should help PTSD. The trouble, however, with working with traumatic memories in conventional therapy has been that the very same subconscious processes activated by the trauma get re-activated by simply remembering and talking about it. Traumatic memories have proved stubbornly resistant to the usual ways of “getting over” them.
How Does EMDR Work?
Enter EMDR. Like the name suggests, it offers a different way for the brain to process traumatic memories so that the memories don’t trigger a painful, dysregulating emotional reaction. It was developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro, who discovered in 1987 that, when people were instructed to move their eyes back and forth while recalling a traumatic event (by following the movement of a therapist’s finger, or a penlight, across their line of vision), the usual way of processing the memory, with all its elevated emotion, would be interrupted. The memory could then be recalled, while the feelings and anxiety associated with it would be reduced. Over a series of EMDR sessions, traumatic memories would lose their charge.
In the years since, EMDR has proved to be an effective method for working through traumatic memories and PTSD, and to a lesser extent, many forms of anxiety. It’s been discovered that EMDR doesn’t require eye movement to be effective; other movements, such as rhythmic tapping on the knees, alternating left and right, while recalling memories works just as effectively. It’s a valuable tool for reducing and even alleviating the pain and distress caused by PTSD and anxiety.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the Symptoms of PTSD?
The most common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Feeling emotionally numb or “unreal.”
- Feeling chronically unsafe. Especially, feeling that whatever traumatic event happened to you will happen again, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it. A trauma shatters the basic, necessary feeling that your everyday world is a safe and predictable place.
- Thoughts and images of the trauma keep recurring, unbidden, over and over again, out of your control, with accompanying highly distressing emotions.
- Chronic tension and an inability to rest or relax.
- Hyper-vigilance and over-reaction to anything that reminds you of the traumatic event. For example, a sudden loud sound, or even a particular smell, can trigger a “flashback.”
- Avoiding normal activities or familiar places out of fear that they will trigger a post-traumatic reaction.
An inability to talk about the traumatic event, or even think about it, without either totally shutting down and describing it as though it happened to someone else, or being flooded by overwhelmingly distressing emotions as though the event is re-occurring in the here-and-now.
- When you’re suffering from PTSD, even though you may have “moved on” in your life and done your best to put the past behind you, the trauma feels like it’s still there, coloring your emotions. There’s a sense that the trauma, no matter how many years have passed since it occurred, “isn’t over yet.”
What Kinds of Trauma are There?
- Acute or Simple trauma is a single terrifying and/or extremely painful event of limited time duration that usually occurs without warning – for example, a car accident, being assaulted, or seeing someone killed in front of you.
- Chronic trauma occurs when you are subjected over an extended period of time to a situation that is highly unsafe and/or emotionally or physically harmful, and you feel emotionally alone without any way to escape. Being in an abusive relationship or having to work in an abusive, sexually harassing workplace would be examples of chronic trauma. Chronic trauma can also occur when several unrelated traumas occur one after the other, overwhelming your ability to cope. The sudden loss of an aging parent, followed by a serious injury, followed by suddenly being laid off, can result in chronic trauma.
- Childhood or developmental trauma occurs when a child’s basic needs for safety and security, and for being loved, cared for and protected, aren’t met. Childhood trauma leaves a lasting imprint because it’s the time when we first learn what to expect from the world and from the people around us. When your childhood wasn’t safe and loving, it’s much harder to learn to feel safe and loved as an adult, although it can be done.
- Childhood trauma itself falls into two categories. Many people’s childhoods were basically safe, predictable and somewhat nurturing, but lacking in very crucial and fundamental ways. Having a parent who is constantly critical, or who withdraws love for small infractions, can leave deep scars. So can living with an alcoholic parent, or with parents who constantly fight or are chronically miserable together. Losing a parent, through death or abandonment, is a major trauma, and so is “losing” a parent who is never there, either emotionally or physically, due to severe depression or the need to constantly work to make enough money to survive. We also now know that bullying and social ostracism by other children can be extremely painful and traumatic events when a child is not supported and helped to cope. The hallmark of this kind of childhood trauma is shame — feeling bad about yourself and blaming your child self for being “bad” or “defective” or wanting what you didn’t “deserve.” The truth is, there was nothing wrong with the way you were as a child. It was not your fault.
- Others have gone through childhoods filled with extreme trauma – childhoods marked by sexual, physical and emotional abuse and neglect, by acts of extreme violence both experienced and witnessed, and by the lack of a single person who cares about them whom they could consistently rely upon. Extreme traumas such as these leave a profound effect on the developing brain. But having even one adult (or sometimes even a pet!) who gives the child a place to step away from their trauma, feel safe, and feel like there’s more to life than their traumatic situation, can give hope and mitigate the trauma.
How Do I Treat Trauma and PTSD?
- If you have suffered trauma, the most important fact is, you survived. You’re here. You used your considerable inner resources to make it through. I deeply believe you’ve heroically done the best you could to get to where you are today.
- In my work with trauma survivors, I have three main goals. First, I work with you to re-build, or sometimes build for the first time, the circuits for safety and trust – trust that you can move safely in the world, and that you can safely reach out and get your needs met. Second, I work to help you gain or regain your belief in your ability to protect yourself from bad things happening to you. And third, I work to help you reach a place where the intense feelings of pain and fear caused by the trauma no longer overwhelm you in the present, causing you to not enjoy your life and avoid doing things you love.
- This work may take time. It’s a journey to face and understand what has happened to you, how it has affected you, and how to live your life free from those effects. But I work with you to ensure that you never feel as though you’ve gone “back there,” reliving those events and feeling as helpless and alone as you did then. That would just re-traumatize you.
- Modern neuroscience has shown that traumatic memories are stored in the brain and nervous system in ways that often make it very difficult to resolve by simply “talking through” them. For this reason, I incorporate EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Inner Relationship Focusing Therapy, AEDP and other approaches that have shown effectiveness in accessing different neural pathways to resolve trauma and reduce the symptoms of PTSD.
- Resolving trauma, however, especially chronic and childhood trauma, is more than applying any one technique. Essentially, the reason traumatic events go underground and become PTSD is that you had to face what was unbearable all on your own, without the help and support you needed then. You don’t have to be alone anymore. Let me help and guide you through it now, so that you can feel whole and well, and create the life you want and deserve.
At this time, my practice is completely virtual, seeing clients through Zoom.
I am a licensed psychologist in Maryland, and also hold the PSYPACT license, which grants me the ability to practice Teletherapy in Washington DC, Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Washington state, Minnesota and 26 other states.
And the Day Came When the Risk to Remain Tight In a Bud Was More Painful Than the Risk It Took to Blossom.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Teletherapy Effective?
I have worked virtually for over 20 years with clients throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. When the pandemic began in March 2020 I went fully virtual with my practice, seeing all my clients through Zoom, and I have remained virtual since. My clients and I have found that teletherapy is every bit as effective as therapy in the office, and much easier to fit into their busy lifestyle.
Is Teletherapy Recognized if I Live Out of State?
Teletherapy is becoming increasingly accepted by state licensing boards and health insurance companies throughout the United States. Through the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT), I have attained authorization to practice telepsychology in the District of Columbia and 32 states, including Maryland, Virginia, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. More states are being added every year.