Why EMDR and Tapping Work for PTSD Symptoms

I’d been thinking that perhaps I needed to explain a bit more on EMDR and Tapping as to how they actually help alleviate the PTSD symptoms, then this morning I saw this NICABM post on my Facebook site that offers an online course for treating trauma by some of the top trauma therapists in the field.

If anyone is interested, I’ll put it all on here including the website for signing up to hear their experienced spiels first-hand, but I noticed in session 4 that Ogden and Siegel will directly discuss the WHY EMDR and Tapping are effective for treating PTSD:

“… Two distinct signs that your client might have impaired brain integration from trauma

How the midbrain holds the key to the freeze response…”

That’s the very reason EMDR and Tapping do work: The traumatic incident or incidences have NOT been fully integrated in the brain’s processing mechanism. They are “stuck” in the mid-brain which creates the immediate reactivity to similar situations without the rational ability to assess their true safety or danger to the body; and I’ll try to explain that more fully in limited verbiage later.

Anyway, for $97 you can listen to the entire course from NICABM and receive transcripts, etc, from folks who know a lot more than I do.  I’m just making the option available here.

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“What happens in the brain when someone experiences trauma, leaving the nervous system vulnerable to horrific feelings and painful sensations?

We asked this question to the top 5 experts in treating trauma in this brand new, focused short course (And there are 3 CE/CMEs available).

Dan Siegel, MD;  Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD;  Bessel van der Kolk, MD;  Pat Ogden, PhD;  and Stephen Porges, PhD; will get into:

✅  The key part of a traumatized brain that gives trauma such enormous power
✅  How the “survival brain” gets altered after a traumatic experience (and how to look for this in your client)
✅  Two hormones that leave the brain highly vulnerable when traumatic memories are forming
✅  What happens in the brain that makes some clients unable to distinguish threat cues from non-threatening stimuli
✅  One strategy to prevent dissociation and retrain a client’s trauma response
✅  Two distinct signs that your client might have impaired brain integration from trauma”

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“The Neurobiology of Trauma and How to Apply It to Your Work with Clients

( https://www.nicabm.com/program/a2-fb2-brain-trauma-1/?d=fbo.867.1.c&fbclid=IwAR0Alyetl4Xqi0Zgn0a9iWUK9aLkuGFHXxrVMbY304SfKEoB6Skx6esVqx0 )

During a traumatic event, the survival brain can take over and knock critical thinking offline.

To fully help clients heal from trauma, we have to understand what’s happening in the traumatized brain – while the traumatic event is occurring as well as how the client gets held hostage to threat cues long afterward.

The brain is so important to working with trauma that we wanted to create a program that solely focused on how to treat it.

We’ll look at the specific brain areas that get altered by trauma, and how this neutralizes the client’s ability to problem-solve.

5 of the top experts in the world will share how they treat clients who struggle with trauma. This brand new program brings together the sharpest strategies for working with a traumatized brain.”

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So back to my explanation of EMDR and Tapping and why they are effective for treating PTSD:  As I understand it, the brain is a complex of four separate parts stacked on one another in evolutional growth that have specific functions in the body.

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  • The brain stem was the earliest evolution of consciousness and was often called the reptilian brain. (Involuntary nervous system like heartbeats and breathing—pure reaction—eat, sleep, procreate, basic survival.)
  • The limbic system was the next evolution in consciousness and was referred to as the mammalian brain. (Emotions developed—how we FEEL as we react to whatever we experience—emotional response—fear, short-term memory of intense feeling/emotions, hormone producing—the processing point where affecting experiences are sent to the upper brain for classification as safe or unsafe.)
  • The human evolution of consciousness was through the development of the cerebellum and cerebrum which were primarily for memory, language development, reasoning skills, and data analysis abilities (highly developed nerve centers and memory storage systems).

The trauma problem arises when some frightening situations cause extremely fearful responses in us (they scare the dickens out of us), and the pure nerve reactivity of the brainstem hits the midbrain point where the limbic brain emotionally reacts to the situation with extreme fear, and the experience shocks the processing point to such a degree that it fails to register the experience further and disseminate it into the memory storage region of the cortex/cerebrum for analysis and comprehension of what actually just happened.

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See how the thalamus and the hypothalamus sit directly on top of the midbrain region of the brain stem?  That’s where the data processing point of that particular experience gets stuck.  The reactivity to fear is so strong there during that frightful situation that it freezes at that midbrain processing point and that memory sits there unresolved for further assessment by the higher brain. That terrorizing situation is like an awful experience stuck in midbrain that to us feels like it is in perpetual fear reactivity in the NOW, and it can’t be properly assessed as “in the past” because it always feels “in the present” and we are constantly reacting to it even when it’s no longer occurring to us.  That’s what leads to the hyper-alertness of PTSD and the instant over-reactivity to anything even remotely fear-inducing to us.

Anyway, the physical bilateral action of tapping or the physical eye-movement-desensitization utilizes the physical body’s ability to actually help move those ‘stuck in fear reactivity’ memories on into the cortex region for proper filing away in memory storage.  When the ‘once stuck horror situation’ is unstuck and properly filed away where it should be, which is IN THE PAST, the mind can begin to properly assess the horrific experience as it truly WAS, not still presently IS, and move through it with safer and more accurate assessments of what really happened to us.

I mean the memory of the horrific experience will still be horrible, but it will be past-tense horrible, not continually present-tense horrible. And that actually does make a difference in how we can better handle our present experiences and help us to move on with our lives.

Hope the above explanation helps. And you can check out the NICABM offering** listed for some serious detailed options available to you.

** (And yes, these online discussions are therapists training other therapists in how to successfully treat trauma clients, but the more information that you have available to you on how the top trauma therapists in the field best handle trauma-client situations, the better you can choose a therapist for yourself that might utilize these more effective techniques for dealing with your own extreme trauma.

Gathering information yourself on the subject is all about self-empowerment–you can then go into a therapy session armed with that newly-acquired knowledge of what might be happening in your brain’s processing centers and work together with your therapist on healing your mind/memories/reactions, rather than just sitting back in the office chair and expecting someone else to fix what might be wrong in your life. You actually take control of your healing by better informing yourself of your true treatment options.

At least that’s my opinion on gathering all the positive treatment information available to you.)

 

The Mind Recognizes Patterns–Understanding PTSD

I was examining a desktop image of a jaguar lying on the river bank in a jungle setting and thinking how easy it would be in real life for the jaguar to simply slip back about five feet into that tangled jungle maze and be completely disguised by the surrounding multi-fronds of tans and various shades of green dangling throughout this natural setting.

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Seeing the jaguar then would be like one of those “Find the beach ball in this mass of balloons” puzzle that tricks the eye and challenges the intellect. While the eye might distinguish differences among the numerous lights and darks and elongated linear shapes in the picture, the mind determines the recognizable patterns within the picture frame.

To even recognize cat-shape and leopard–spots you must have seen them prior and attributed a label or a “name” to that general shape and texture so that upon seeing a simile of a “spotted-cat,” the mind immediately tries to identify it in some way to determine the jagstalkingyou45relative safety for our personal being in the situation.

While seeing a picture of a jaguar sunning on a jungle riverbank isn’t exactly hazardous to our health, seeing the real thing lying only a few feet from us might be, and the mind reacts to that possibility with a subtle or a pronounced warning signal. If you’ve ever been in a close encounter with a jaguar, even the above picture itself could trigger a spurt of adrenaline through us by preparing us for a “fight or flight” response.

How we naturally react to whatever we encounter depends on our personal history with the situation or the subject matter.

This is the problem many military personnel face when they return from fighting in war zones.  No matter where they are, no matter the actual setting around them, metaphorically they see the density of the jungle surrounding them and expectjageyealertwatching the jaguar to be lurking there ready to attack them—except the jaguar would be in human form armed with rifles and explosives, and the “jungle” could be any suspicious setting—urban or rural—where human jaguars might lie in wait for them—ready to attack.  Those who have known some form of combat can’t relax because they know “the jaguar” is always there—ready to pounce if they simply let down their guard for a moment.

This is a trick of the mind when encountering remote similarities in our lives: Our minds try to protect us by alertly recognizing patterns that might prove hazardous to our being.

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Our minds often do not differentiate between the nuances of “home” settings which should be considered safe or of “war” settings which would be considered unsafe. The mind simply recognizes any patterns of possible “enemy concealment” in our surroundings along with the uncertainty of what lies beyond the next turn in the road or the ominous new direction of the curving path before us.

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) is quite real. And there should be NO stigma related to our mind simply trying to protect us from any perceived danger, even in supposedly SAFE settings (which in today’s world there seem to be fewer of).

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PTSD is our own mind simply trying to keep us alive the best way it can, because the world we have known in the past was a pretty scary place to be. 

There are many ways to help the mind retrain itself to be less reactive to what we might have once perceived as a threat.  Many therapists now employ techniques like EMDR, or Tapping, or hypnosis, or flashing light therapies, or even other techniques that I’m presently unaware of.

The therapeutic community has advanced considerably over the last decade, so if you’d like to learn a bit more about these newer therapies, I suggest these two books that I emdrmadesimplebookpersonally own: EMDR Made Simple: 4 Approaches to Using EMDR with Every Client, by Jamie Marich; and TAPPING IN: A Step-By-Step Guide to Activating Your Healing Resources Through Bilateral Stimulation, by Laurel Parnell. PhD.tappinginparnell.jpg

I wasn’t a combat vet but awhile back I had some PTSD of my own, and both books helped me to clear away the constant mental hyper-alertness and helped to uncover and release the deeply-held, hidden fears by utilizing those two techniques: EMDR and Tapping (Bilateral Stimulation).

You can give them a try just by reading the books.  Both of those books talk you through what to do. If they seem to help, you might then find a good therapist who offers one or both of those techniques to help reset your mind’s pattern recognition.

There is NO stigma attached to PTSD. It is simply the mind doing what it does naturally—trying to keep us safe from harm.

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That’s to be applauded, not condemned.