Dutch psychiatric pioneer of trauma treatment since the 1970s, Bessel van der Kolk, is one of the leading researchers on what supports people struggling to live with traumatic experiences. These psychological events have shaped their sense of safety in the world.
The APA defines psychological trauma as damage inflicted to a person’s mind as a result of one or more distressing events causing overwhelming amounts of stress that exceed the person’s ability to cope or integrate the emotion involved, eventually leading to serious, long-term negative consequences.
Bessel and colleagues believe there can be a multi-pronged approach that focuses on “calming the nervous system, increasing executive function, and grounding patients in the present.” Since the 1980s, Van Der Kolk and Francine Shapiro have explored a variety of clinical approaches, including neurofeedback, EMDR, psychodrama, and yoga. Dr. Shapiro is the creator of an evidence-based treatment model with great success called EMDR.
What is EMDR?
A Psychology Today article explores EMDR and finds that it is not a traditional talk-therapy like most other psychotherapies; it’s more of a mindfulness-based therapy, but that’s not the full story. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This is a highly-structured model of therapeutic treatment that involves working with memories, body sensations, core-self beliefs, and emotions to eliminate the residential emotional, somatic, and cognitive remnants of painful past experiences.
The primary feature of this treatment is recovering a sense of safety in the body through the medium of embodiment. It may seem counter-intuitive but the body is the ultimate indicator of whether we feel safe in the world. If we’ve had traumatic experiences – ones where we felt physically, sexually, or emotionally threatened/wounded, or have experienced or witnessed horrific events – our entire body from neurons to our toes holds tightly against these sensations but can be haunted by them. We may feel trapped inexplicably, intruded upon by frightening images, obsessive thoughts; have poor sleep and self-care; difficulty concentrating or prone to making impulsive decisions; irritability and experience of overall tightness leading to physical aches and pains. a chronic mistrust of others, even those closest to us; and most often, a chronic sense of loss in hope for a different future.
What Does EMDR Do for Trauma Clients?
Again, a Psychology Today essay defines this: “By stimulating the brain in ways that lead it to process unprocessed or unhealed memories, patients experience a natural restoration and adaptive resolution, decreased emotional charge (desensitization, or the “D” of EMDR), and linkage to positive memory networks (reprocessing, or the “R” of EMDR). EMDR helps people address and work through those memories, sensations, and emotions and resume normal, adaptive, and healthy processing. An experience that may have triggered a negative response may no longer affect them the way it used to after EMDR treatment. Difficult experiences will likely become less upsetting.”
The certified EMDR therapists at MCS are Billie St. Jean and Leta Lawhead.
Leta Lawhead, MSW, LICSWA
Leta’s passion is working with individual adults wanting to heal from past trauma and develop adaptive coping skills to navigate daily life. Leta also enjoys working with couples through the evidence-based Gottman Method to support and empower partners to deepen their connection with one another. Leta’s specialties include EMDR, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Mindfulness. Leta has worked extensively with survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. She brings unconditional positive regard and a holistically focused environment that is centered around client healing, growth, values, and potential. Leta received her Master’s of Social Work degree from Eastern Washington University.
Billie St. Jean, MSW, LSWAIC, MHP, SUDP
Billie works with adults who suffer from addiction, mental health issues, co-occurring disorders, and unresolved trauma. Her goal is to meet clients where they are in their journey and help them to build on their strengths by focusing on their abilities, using their community, and strengths such as new such as learning coping, and distress tolerance skills, as well as mindfulness. Billie uses an eclectic method of treatment modalities such as Lifespan Integration therapy, EMDR, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Relapse Prevention, and Seeking Safety. Billie acquired a Master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Southern California with a concentration in mental health. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington and completed her Substance Use Professional Certification from Olympic College.
A number of complementary approaches to trauma treatment have been implicated as well, including stress-reduction through mindfulness meditation. All therapists at MCS are trained to work with trauma and many use mindfulness.