Trauma & EMDR

Trauma and PTSD

When people think of trauma, they typically think of car accidents, natural disasters, and psychological scars from combat.  The effect on the body, brain and emotional health of an individual experiencing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of shock trauma can be devastating. Physical health, relationships, ability to function in life, and overall emotional well-being is greatly compromised.

Developmental Trauma

What many people do not realize is that developmental trauma – the psychophysiological response to deeply distressing experiences, environments and relationships in one’s childhood – affects the body, brain and life of its sufferers in much the same way as shock trauma. 

Because children depend on their parents for survival, a parent’s lack of consistent and predictable tending to both the physical and emotional needs of the child is experienced as a threat to the child’s survival and may result in a heightened stress response, physical symptoms, and the development of maladaptive protective defenses that carry on into adulthood.

Examples of highly distressing or adverse childhood experiences that may result in a trauma response:

  • Family conflict
  • Divorce
  • Death of a family member
  • Emotional or physical abuse or neglect
  • Lack of emotional validation or expressions of love and delight in the child
  • Excessively rigid, authoritarian, or over-involved parents
  • A depressed or otherwise unavailable parent
  • Insufficient physical touch and eye contact
  • Alcoholism
  • Frequent moves
  • Physical or mental health issues within the family

Ways in which developmental trauma might affect someone:

anger issues
stomach and digestive problems
chronic rumination
relationship difficulties

ADHD-like symptoms
emotional overwhelm
autoimmune disease
intrusive memories
control issues

chronic pain
personality disorder
racing thoughts
disturbing dreams

I specialize in helping adults experiencing consequences of developmental trauma learn emotion and nervous system regulation skills, improve their relationships, and heal from traumatic experiences so that they can lead lives of increased ease, well-being and connection.

Where Do We Begin?

My approach to treating developmental trauma is collaborative, gentle, multi-layered and varied according to the needs, preferences and goals of the individual.  Developing a positive, secure relationship between us is the first step, as feeling calm and safe is necessary for successful trauma processing.  Beyond that, we will create experiences in session that draw from among a number of body/brain approaches and interventions, including Eye Moment Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), mindfulness meditation, parts work, somatic awareness, Idealized Parent Figured (IPF) protocol, sand tray therapy, and inner child work.

Some aspects of our sessions will seem like traditional therapy in that we will work to help you gain insight, understanding, self-compassion, and improved skills for dealing with challenging or upsetting situations or relationships in your current life.  After all, the reason you are seeking help for past trauma is because of the negative effect it is having on your life in the present.

Concurrently, we will pay close attention to the emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations that you experience while talking about your current-life, and from there, depending on your goals, preferences and readiness, may move in and out of deeper work that might involve gentle trauma processing interventions such as EMDR, inner child or parts work, or experiential approaches such as sand tray therapy.

We will never go faster or deeper than you are comfortable with, and we will revisit your therapeutic goals on an ongoing basis.

To get a sense of what I’m like as a therapist,
see “Choosing a Therapist”

What Is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is one trauma approach I am trained in that people ask about a lot… Aside from its cumbersome name, it is a very non-intimidating approach to healing from trauma and can be used for both shock trauma and developmental trauma. 

Unlike exposure therapies, with EMDR you do not need to re-live the targeted memory; instead, you will hold in your mind’s eye an image that represents the worst of the memory as if looking out at passing scenery through the window of a moving train.  From there, under the therapist’s watchful eye, you let your mind go wherever it leads you while processing the memory, much as in REM sleep, trusting in the body and brain’s natural ability to heal itself given the right circumstances.  During this phase, you can choose to keep your eyes open and follow my fingers as they pass back and forth in front of your eyes, or you can close your eyes and hold in your hand small devices that will make rhythmic, subtle pulses in your alternating palms.

The bilateral stimulation from the pulses or finger movements aids in integrating the traumatic experience into explicit memory, where experiences normally get stored when we’re not in a heightened nervous system (fight or flight) state. EMDR is not hypnosis; you are awake and conscious throughout.

Periodically during the process, you will share with me what you observe from your “window”, whether it be thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, action impulses, a sensory experience or even another memory. I serve as your guide and companion throughout, tracking your responses and ensuring that the process continues to be safe and productive.  Over time you will notice that the memory no longer causes the physical and emotional distress it once did, and you may begin to feel less “stuck” in certain aspects of your present life as a result.

For a great source of information about EMDR see:

EMDR is just one of a number of ways in which I work with clients to heal trauma.  If you would like to learn more about any of the above-mentioned approaches or what it would be like to work with me, I encourage you to visit me at my office in north central Austin for a free 30-minute consultation.

Schedule a free 20-minute in-person consultation at my office in north central Austin