0203 326 9160

How can EMDR therapy help overcome trauma?

Posted on Tuesday, 25 September 2018, in Anxiety & Stress, Treatments & Therapy

Can EMDR therapy help you overcome trauma - CP


What is trauma?

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, sometimes inaccurate, beliefs about themselves, others and the world.


Why do we get trauma?

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 eliminate what has already happened; however, you can work on the imprints of the trauma on body, mind and soul.

Trauma often robs you of feeling you are in control of your life. Therefore, the challenge of recovery is to re-establish a sense of ownership of your body and 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 first-line 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. Because of this, EMDR focuses on your personal experiences and the event's meaning. EMDR deals directly with how the experience has affected you- the patient.” says Jennifer.


EMDR – Julie’s story

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, and sweaty, feel 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 the other driver as ‘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, so she felt angry.


EMDR helped Julie overcome these feelings

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 could not get rid of images of the ‘red car’ that hit her and the driver’s ‘smirking face’.

As we proceeded with her therapy, Julie identified an incident from her early 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 helpless and unsafe. That evening, she had feared for her and her mother’s safety; whenever 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 could acknowledge difficulties in her relationship with her father and more importantly get back on her motorbike and reclaim her identity as a ‘biker’. 

Trauma with a ‘t’

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 considered 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 childbirths, being bullied at school, bullied in the workplace, 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 and that their experiences aren’t as important or 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.