Joanna Goodfellow Counselling and Psychotherapy in Melksham

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“Trauma affects the entire human organism—body, mind, and brain. In PTSD the body continues to defend against a threat that belongs to the past” Bessel Van Der Kolk.

EMDR & Trauma. amenite

Trauma and EMDR

Trauma is the result of a very stressful event or series of events that shatter our sense of security, leaving us feeling helpless and vulnerable. Everyone reacts differently to very stressful events, some recover naturally while others will experience post traumatic stress (PTSD) and will suffer PTSD symptoms.

Traumatic experiences often involve life threatening situations or a threat to safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed, alone and frightened can be traumatic. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatised. Memory of that trauma is held in your body and brain and it’s possible to develop illness, tensions, or find that breathing is restricted which can cause other problems .

In order to manage trauma you may have found ways of surviving which might include depression or anxiety, addiction, phobias, relationship issues. These survival strategies keep the trauma at bay but they can become restricting and even life threatening over time.

Trauma can change the brain and by developing an awareness of what is going on in your brain, with the right treatment, you can address these symptoms and learn skills that will help reset your brain for health. The brain is “plastic,” and it is possible to change it.

EMDR & Trauma. Ptsd

The Brain

There are three areas of the brain that are most affected in trauma:

1.     The prefrontal cortex, called the “Thinking Center” is located near the top of your head, behind your forehead and is responsible for rational thought, problem-solving, personality, planning, empathy, and awareness of ourselves and others. When this area of the brain is strong we are able to think clearly, make good decisions, and be aware of ourselves and others. In the traumatised brain this area is under activated.

2.     The anterior cingulate cortex, called the “Emotion Regulation Canter,” is next to the Thinking Center and is responsible for regulating emotion. When this area of the brain is strong, we are able to manage difficult thoughts and emotions without being totally overwhelmed by them. In the traumatised brain this area is under activated.

3.     The amygdala, called the “Fear Centre” is deep inside our brain and is not in our conscious awareness or control. It is responsible for receiving all information from our senses, sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste – and decide if there is danger or threat coming. If it assesses there is a threat, then the amygdala will produce fear in us, we will feel frightened, become agitated, over reactive, and hyper vigilant. In the traumatised brain this area is over-activated.

If you are traumatised, you may experience chronic stress, vigilance, fear, and irritation. You may also have difficulty feeling safe, calming down, and sleeping. These symptoms are the result of an overactive amygdala.

You may notice difficulties with concentration and attention, or that you can’t think clearly. This is due to the Thinking centre being under activated.

Treatment involves calming the amygdala and the feeling of fear and anxiety and activating the Thinking Brain so that it can use rational thought to assess whether a threat is in fact present and the best thing to do about it.

It takes effort, practice and time and working with a psychotherapist who specialises in trauma and PTSD, who uses evidence-based methods that change the brain by working with both the body and the mind, who can help you to retrain your brain.

If you’ve had enough of feeling out of control, depressed or anxious it’s probably time to get help.


I have been working with EMDR sine 2008 when I completed my EMDR training with Alexander Richman. It is the NICE approved treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). EMDR has been developed through clinical research over the past 20 years to treat PTSD and traumatic memories. It is now often also used to work with phobias and anxiety disorders.

PTSD is the name given when someone's trauma symptoms persist for longer than 3 months after the traumatic event. Not everyone will go on to develop PTSD and many find that their symptoms will fade over the first three months. About 30% of people who experience traumatic events will go on to develop PTSD.

EMDR uses eye movement or tapping, to enable the brain to begin to process memories that have become "stuck". EMDR appears to facilitate the accessing of the traumatic memory and the information is processed with new associations being made between the disturbing memory and new associations, leading to information processing, alleviation of emotional distress and development of insights.

There is an assessment which can take one or two sessions and then some preliminary work. If EMDR is suitable then there may be 10 to 16 sessions. This is an illustration of how it could work and not everyone fits the same pattern.

EMDR often resolves emotional disturbances and trauma where other therapies have failed.
EMDR is effective for most anxiety based disorders.
EMDR should not be confused with hypnotherapy.
EMDR is a client led therapy and always remains within the control of the client.
EMDR is capable of rapid results

EMDR works with the following issues:

EMDR often resolves emotional disturbances and trauma where other therapies have failed.
EMDR is effective for most anxiety based disorders.
EMDR should not be confused with hypnotherapy. EMDR is a client led therapy and always remains within the control of the client.
EMDR is capable of rapid results.
Conditions suitable for therapy

EMDR is particularly suitable for the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Trauma (resulting from accidents, disasters and emotional distress)
  • Bereavement
  • Addiction and substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • Abuse (verbal, physical and sexual)
  • Self-esteem issues

EMDR & Trauma. Library Image: Purple Flowers

PTSD Symptoms

Reliving the trauma - some of the symptoms

Flashback which feels like the trauma is happening now
intrusive thoughts
Intense distress at reminders of the trauma
physical experiences such as pain, sweating, nausea or trembling.

Hyper alert - some symptoms

panicking when reminded of the trauma
being easily upset or angry
extreme alertness
disturbed sleep or a no sleep
irritability or aggressive behaviour
finding it hard to concentrate
being jumpy or easily startled
self-destructive behaviour or recklessness
symptoms of anxiety.

Avoiding trauma memories- some signs

feeling like you have to keep busy
avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma
being unable to remember details of what happened
feeling emotionally numb or cut off from your feelings
feeling physically numb or detached from your body
being unable to express affection
using alcohol or drugs to avoid memories.

Feeling alone

feeling like you can't trust anyone
feeling like nowhere is safe
feeling like nobody understands
blaming yourself for what happened
overwhelming feelings of anger, sadness, guilt or shame.

Counselling and therapy can help with these symptoms and experiences and EMDR can be particularly helpful.

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