In this blog, Dr Jennifer Opoku, Chartered Counselling Psychologist and Clinical Partner London, explores how EMDR therapy helped her patient Julie to effectively overcome the trauma of a road accident and how it led Julie to some surprising conclusions.
Psychologists refer to trauma as events that would be upsetting to almost everyone and that involve a reaction of fear, helplessness and terror. Trauma can be a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing and can cause the individual to develop limiting, and sometimes inaccurate, beliefs about themselves, others and the world.
A psychological trauma can occur when the individual has experienced either a single event or long lasting or repeated events that are so overwhelming, they affect their ability to cope or make sense of what happened. These experiences can become fixed in the body-mind in the form of irrational emotions, blocked energy and physical symptoms, and changes in brain functioning. You cannot get rid of what has already happened; however, you can work on the imprints of the trauma on body, mind and soul.
Trauma often robs you of the feeling that you are in charge or that you are an active agent of your life. Therefore, the challenge of recovery is to re-establish a sense of ownership of your body and your mind.
EMDR therapy is a very effective treatment for dealing with trauma – NICE guidelines and the World Health Organisation recommend it as one of their firstline treatment options for anyone who had experienced trauma. EMDR can assist you on your journey to recovery and mental well-being.
“It’s important to remember that events and experiences are subjective - individuals process traumatic events differently because we view them through the lens of prior experiences in our lives. Because of this, EMDR focuses on your personal experiences and your meaning of the event. EMDR deals directly with how the experience has affected you- the patient.” says Jennifer.
‘Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break’. William Shakespeare, Macbeth.
I worked with a client in her early 50s who had been involved in a nasty motorbike accident. This client had been riding motorbikes for over 20 years. After the accident, however, she withdrew from her friends and was afraid to get on her motorbike. She had gone from riding her motorbike daily and all across the country, to only being able to ride within a three miles radius from her home.
Every time she got on her motorbike, her body reacted with fear and panic. She would become breathless, sweaty, felt a sharp pain in her chest and neck and had negative thoughts that she was not safe. During her sessions, she would report feeling angry with the other driver. The client viewed that the other driver was ‘just getting on with her life’ whereas she felt she had been robbed of her passion.
The client perceived that her identity as a ‘biker’ had been taken away from her and for this, she felt angry.
EMDR therapy helped Julie to process the accident and become aware of her emotions, maladaptive thoughts and physical symptoms associated with the accident. During the therapy, the client was unable to get rid of images of the ‘red car’ that hit her and images of the driver’s ‘smirking face’.
As we proceeded along her therapy, Julie identified an incident from her earlier childhood when she was around five years old and her father came home drunk one evening after work. She remembered seeing her father’s ‘red face’ as he smashed a glass table, leaving her feeling scared, helpless and unsafe. That evening, she had feared for her and her mother’s safety, every time she heard her father move, her body panicked, anticipating whether he would lash out at her or her mother.
The next day, Julie remembers thinking her father was able to ‘just get on with his life as though nothing had happened’ just as she perceived the driver who hit her to be ‘getting on with her life’ without a care for her actions. EMDR helped the client to connect and make sense of the two events. At the end of her therapy, she was able to acknowledge difficulties in her relationship with her father and more importantly get back on her motorbike and reclaim her identity as a ‘biker’.
PTSD doesn’t have to be caused by a terrorist attack or being in the military – although these are regarded as big “T” traumas, the small “t” traumas can also have a profound negative effect. Small “t” traumas can be thought of as mild but upsetting experiences that occur in everyday life but result in some of the same feelings as big “T” traumas.
“Most of the people I see who have PTSD have it as a result of being involved in road traffic accidents, surgical operations, difficult child births, being bullied at school, bullied in the work place, childhood neglect, sexual molestation, physical/mental abuse, gang-related issues or bereavement. They often feel that somehow, they don’t classify as having experienced trauma, that somehow their experiences aren’t as important or as bad as someone in the military. But they are, and small ‘t’ events can have just as devastating impacts as the better-known bit ‘T’ events.” says Jennifer.
If you are interested in finding out more about how EMDR can help you or a loved one, you can speak to one of our triage team by calling 0203 326 9160 or request a call back. Dr Opoku is available for consultations in our central London clinic.
Clinical Partners is the UK’s largest private mental health partnership – helping thousands of families just like ours, to access expert mental health care. For more information about how we can help you, please visit www.clinical-partners.co.uk
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