How to Reduce Trauma with Mindfulness and EMDR Therapy

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What is mindfulness? Mindfulness means to "Pay attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”

- Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness has been used for thousands of years in the East. With its growing popularity in the West, neuroscience research is reporting the positive effects of mindfulness on the brain. Research shows that mindfulness changes the brain and helps to decrease pain, reduce anxiety and depression, improve cognitive function, and even produces changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain related to learning and memory, emotional regulation, and self awareness. EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) integrates mindfulness in its treatment for people who have experienced trauma or stressful life events. This combined approach helps people process the traumatic material in a safe manner, while continuing to build resiliency and mindfulness outside of the therapy office.

An estimated 50% of adults in the U.S. have had a traumatic experience.

Being mindful can be challenging for someone who has experienced trauma or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). A main feature of PTSD is anxiety and hyper arousal. People use a variety of avoidance behaviors to escape feeling the emotions, thoughts, feelings and memories that remind them of the trauma. The survival strategy of avoidance can lead people to feel disconnected from themselves, their bodies and the world around them. It can also make it difficult to concentrate on a task and cause a person to withdraw and isolate from others. These feelings can make it hard for a person to feel comfortable creating a mindfulness practice.

There are several strategies to help traumatized individuals access mindfulness.

If an internal focus is bringing up highly distressing trauma memories and emotions, then one can direct their attention to the outward world which can be less destabilizing than directing attention inward. Some examples of this include yoga, mindful movement practices, or walking meditations. If possible those experiencing trauma can also take refuge in their breath, or a comfortable place in their body. Sometimes labeling can also help to regulate a traumatized person who is feeling too much intensity. Labeling in a nonjudgmental way (tight stomach, difficulty breathing, and fear) can provide a person distance without losing the healing effects of mindfulness.

Mindfulness and EMDR therapy go hand in hand.

EMDR therapy is a psychotherapy designed to help people heal from trauma and distressing life events by processing the disturbing memories which negatively impact them. Mindfulness is woven in throughout the 8 phases of EMDR therapy. The beginning phases of EMDR therapy supports mindfulness practices to develop a sense of self in order to be able to do trauma focused work. In EMDR therapy mindfulness is helpful in the preparation phase of therapy; helping clients learn to observe their internal reactions without judgment, while accepting their feelings, body sensations and thoughts as they arise.

Throughout EMDR therapy, therapists will ask the client to invite whatever is there. This approach encourages clients to be in touch with what is held in their mind, body and spirit. At different phases in the EMDR process it is very common to hear an EMDR therapist say to their client: How disturbing is it to you now? What do you get now? Take a deep breath. Where do you feel that in your body? Focus on that. Just notice. Scan your body for any disturbance. What do you notice?  That is right, just notice and go with that. EMDR allows the mind and body to go wherever it needs to go in order to heal.

Here’s a simple way to give mindfulness a try:  

Using Mindfulness for PTSD (Source: About.com)

Using mindfulness for PTSD may be a good way of coping.  In a nutshell, mindfulness is about being completely in-touch with the present moment. So often in our lives, we are stuck in our heads, caught up in the anxiety and worries of daily life. This exercise will introduce you to mindfulness and may be helpful getting you "out of your head" and in touch with the present moment.

Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: 10 minutes
Here's How:

  •  Find a comfortable position either lying on your back or sitting. If you are sitting down, make sure that you keep your back straight and release the tension in your shoulders. Let them drop. Close your eyes.
  • Focus your attention on your breathing. Simply pay attention to what it feels like in your body to slowly breathe in and out.
  • Now bring your attention to your belly. Feel your belly rise and expand everytime you breathe in.
  • Feel your belly fall every time you breathe out.
  • Continue to focus your attention on the full experience of breathing. Immerse yourself completely in this experience. Imagine you are "riding the waves" of your own breathing.
  • Anytime that you notice your mind has wandered away from your breath (it likely will and this is completely normal!), simply notice what it was that took your attention away and then gently bring your attention back to the present moment - your breathing.
  • Continue as long as you would like!

Tips:

  • Before you try this exercise, it may be useful to first simply practice breathing. This may sound silly, but many people don't breathe properly, which can fuel stress and anxiety.
  • Make this a habit. Practice this exercise at least once a day.
  • At first, it may be important to practice this exercise at times when you are not overly stressed-out or anxious. When you were first learning to drive a car, you likely didn't start out on the highway during a thunderstorm. The same goes for mindfulness.
  • Remember, it is normal for your mind to wander during this exercise.
  • That's what it does. Don't get discouraged. Instead, at times like this, it may be useful to think of mindfulness in this way: If your mind wanders away from the breath a thousand times, mindfulness is about bringing your attention back to the present moment a thousand and one times.

In closing, mindfulness is more than a set of practices. It is a way of being. Mindfulness encourages self compassion and gratitude in one’s life. It can be a formal practice of sitting for 45 minutes in mindful meditation or by tuning into your breathing during different times throughout the day, being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judging them or yourself, and being aware of changes in the way you are seeing things and feelings about yourself. Being mindful in daily living can be bringing yourself back to your breath while waiting for the microwave to stop. Another simple practice is while sitting in traffic and bringing awareness to your breath and thoughts each time you see a brake light from the car in front of you. You can also be mindful while eating by bringing awareness to each aspect of your food  preparation and eating. In addition, you can be mindful in the shower as you bring awareness to sensations of warm water, the smell of soap etc. To learn more about the treatment of trauma through Mindfulness and EMDR therapy please go to Lemecia Lindsey’s website at www.vancouveremdrtherapy.com.

Lemecia & the VWS Team