Hi I’m Laurel. I’m a licensed therapist and I wanted to do a short video blog for you today because I’ve been thinking about trauma therapy, which is one of my specialties, and how it’s different than other kind of therapy. I wanted to talk about why and what it looks like.
Trauma therapy needs to be different because trauma is stored it differently in our brain than typical memories are stored. I have here is a very rough picture of a not at all anatomically correct brain. It’s more of an abstract around memory and how things are stored.
The little stars would be memories, scents, ideas, thoughts, and people you’ve experienced. Now you can see the little guy all alone in a little box. That little box is your brain’s way of protecting you, right? Saying “Oh, this is a bad memory. We don’t want to think about this. Let’s close it off and hopefully it’ll never get opened so we don’t have to think about that terrible thing that happened or that scary person or that feeling” or whatever it may be. Your brain is protecting you and doing its job. The problem is we do find ourselves in this box sometimes, somehow. There’s a certain smell or a phrase or we see someone or something clicks and suddenly we find ourselves remembering this thing again. And it’s really scary because it’s like it’s happening all over again. It feels very real and stuck and we can’t get back to the rest of our brain.
As you see, all of these [memories] have connections to other areas of the brain and other thoughts and memories, but the trauma memory doesn’t. That’s why trauma therapy has to be different; we’re literally looking at your brain functioning and storing things differently when reminders of the trauma come up.
So what do we do to build these connections to other parts of your brain? There’s a lot of things we can do. One thing is really important, any trauma therapist, 101, is looking at resources. Resources are anything that connects you to a sense of who you are, a sense of joy, a sense of safety and contentment. It can be it can be making art, it can be dancing, and cooking, it can be a certain person, or a certain place or a certain place or smell or a song. All of these things are resources.
Ideally you have a plenty of people in your life and activities where you feel safe, but if you don’t, that’s OK. You can work with a therapist to come up with a list of internal and external resources to give yourself a sense of calm and safety and contentment. You have to have that. And then you can actually look into the actual trauma. What is it? How are we going to create those connections? How are we going to link these positive [resources] or these neutral things in your brain to this negative, scary thing. That looks different for everyone, but a good trauma therapist can help you do that to make those connections, so that if you suddenly find yourself on trauma island, there’s a bridge to get off. It would be like, “Ah, I’m here again, time to go back to somewhere else,” right? Or you can hang out there and be like, “You know, this used to really upset me, but now I don’t feel anything when I think of it.” That’s the goal, right? To have the trauma memory be processed like a normal memory so you can think about the scary thing that happened without getting your body all worked up over it.
When I work with trauma in my practice, I use a combination of three things. I use EMDR, which is a well-researched modality that I can offer online. And depending on what the trauma is, I might use a little bit of exposure. Let’s say someone got bit by a dog; maybe we’re gonna look at pictures of dogs, maybe we’re going to find a way for you to safely be near some dogs, etc., and gradually work up [to not being afraid of dogs.] This works especially well with phobias and other reactions that totally makes sense after trauma. [And third,} of course, good old fashion talk therapy. There’s really no substitute for a person-to-person relationship with someone you trust that you can help guide you through and resolve that trauma.
So if that sounds good to you, if what I’m saying makes sense and you’re ready to dig in and gently start processing some stuff that’s happened to you, give me a call.
Laurel Therapy Collective
offers online therapy to California residents for anxiety, transitions, and trauma.