Most of us would associate the word ‘trauma’ with extreme situations such as soldiers in a war zone or survivors of a plane crash. However, as far as our minds and, in particular, our bodies are concerned, trauma means anything that causes us stress so overwhelming that our physical response to it is to ‘freeze’ like a rabbit in headlights.
It’s not possible to say exactly how any form of psychotherapeutic intervention works on a neurological level. However, what we can say is that when a person is very upset their brain cannot process information as it does normally. This ‘frozen’ material is usually stored up in childhood and then triggered in adult life by a new stress, such as a relationship break-up, redundancy or bereavement.
Any new stresses, even small ones, quickly cause our stress to spill over, which is why we can so quickly become anxious and overwhelmed. And remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, and feelings haven’t changed.
For example, the first significant stress may be a child who is exposed to abuse at an early age whose developing mind simply isn’t able to process it thoroughly. They may have limited memory of the event, in fact, but notice a pattern of failed relationships later in life. Problems such as extreme emotional sensitivity, anxiety, depression, or behavioural problems such as sexual dysfunction, eating disorders and other addictions could all be traced back to a frozen trauma.
Both analytical hypnosis and EMDR have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. By helping the individual in a safe and controlled way to reframe the memory, normal information processing is resumed so that the person no longer relives the images, sounds and feelings when the event is brought to mind.
Both hypnosis and EDMR are similar to what occurs during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and can, therefore, be thought of as physiologically based therapies that help individuals to see disturbing material in a less-distressing and more insightful way.