Trauma: Hypnosis & EMDR Releasing Technique

This technique was Presented by Reinette Steyn to the Psychology (PsySSA)Conference in Cape Town on 13 Aug 2009.

Whether big or small, Trauma has always implied disruption of our sense of being “OK”.

The German word Traum means Dream, suggesting an experience in Dream State, or Nightmare, if you will.  Traumatic experiences generally have dream state power: symbolism, irrationality, unpredictability, polarised effects, and 2-dimensional characters – good or bad, victim or perpetrator.

Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein held that the Imagoes or mental representations we create of people who have in some way damaged us, are far fiercer and more relentless than the real life people on whom they are based; they are indifferent to all others’ pain or even delight in it.

I believe the same holds true for damaging or threatening events or experiences in general. 

They seem one-sided and overpower us with their unmittigating attack – Nightmare stuff.

The counter-balance for a nightmare, with all its vivid imagery, movement, unpredictability, and frenetic action, can’t be just a calm dream.  We need a similar strong arousal level as that of the trauma or nightmare experience, one that would stimulate the release of large quantities of positive neurochemicals to neutralise or displace the negative ones.

We need colour, movement, rush of action, stimulation of all senses, and exuberant energy in our healing imagery.  Let’s call it a Brightmare!  A wonderful, bright, positive dream state experience, with imagoes as impossibly real and incongruous to everyday experience, as those of negative trauma states.

The changing of the brain state to a positive but aroused state is an important intervention since we know that our brain functioning is so-called “State-Dependent”:  It is very difficult for us to access positive memories or habits if we’re feeling depressed, or calm memories or experiences if we’re feeling anxious, or powerful feelings when we’re in a trauma-induced powerless state.  And since the brain appears to prioritise highly aroused states as mode of ensuring survival, we need to create a similar level of arousal priority for the brain to change to a more positive and powerful state of functioning.

Different de-briefing therapies appear to have 3 common elements in their various protocols:
1]  Re-visit the traumatic experience in minute details, accessing all 7 senses, and replay with different perspective and speeds.
2]  Re-frame aspects of the experience so that they are more empowering & validating.
3]  Generate a containment / safe space experience.

In EMDR the protocol typically ends with 3 containment steps:
a]  De-potentiate the threatening negative imagoes, for instance by putting them into a Perspex bubble, or a composting tank, or shark cage.
b]  Anchor a feeling of being protected through a suitable image – blue light, angels, huge dog, etc.
c]  Help client to create or access a Conflict-Free Image [CFI].  Examples from patients include floating in a dam, playing with their dog as a child, flying overseas on holiday, throwing clay at opponents across a stream, giving birth, a secret place in a garden, etc.

Making light of actual traumatic events [big or small] is likely to be harmful, invalidating the painful experience, causing repression of the negative impact, and hugely annoying the defensive or protective ego-states, which may have disruptive and damaging consequences…

But we can speed up the process of re-empowerment and stabilisation of the self by enlivening the safe space imagery to create an effective counter-balancing “Brightmare” to the trauma-bad dream experience.  We do this through adding incongruous, laughter-evoking imagery to the client’s CFT or safe space.

Example:  To a young rape victim’s Safe image of eating ice-cream on the beach, one ciould suggest that the “ice-cream baby” had a big protector ice-goose that would nozzle her neck with its flat orange beak, and tuck her under its belly to keep her safe, till she sneezed so hard that it somersaulted backwards and looked very funny trying to regain composure.  Experience shows that clients, old or young, keep remembering the incongruous image and e laughter thus evoked seems to speed up the creation of efficacy and normalcy neuronal pathways.

We can thus play the role of movie or dream state director, generating strong and vivid positive states, to create an exciting Brightmare through suggesting additions to patient imagery, using the following tools:

– Add colour, brightness, temperature, physical comfort – or even slight discomfort such a tickling, texture, smell, taste, sounds.
– Enlarge the protagonist/s [including the Self] to absurdly huge size in relation to other elements or characters.
– Add incongruous characters, actions, occurrences, and situations.  It should end up being “silly” and laughter-provoking, while remaining reassuring and protective.
– Add fast movement, unexpected behaviours or events, dramatic, positive action, and make sure the client is part of the action in a powerful way.

Benefits are numerous, for instance:

– Neuro-chemicals evoked by laughter and energetic imagery create a brain state in which it is easier to recall victory and positive experiences, in contrast to the disempowering state created by traumatic experiences;
– Re-association to three-dimensionality of one’s life and reintegration of positive life experiences into the life narrative can occur readily;
– Through the balancing of Nightmare Dream States with Brightmare Dream States, normalcy is validated and permission is given to the self to laugh and experience happy feelings “in spite of” negative experience, etc.

The possibility for selection of possible characters and events is endless:  Why can’t the Elvis impersonator surfing on a Harley Davidson bike near the person’s safe place not have a mouse with long green eye-lashes playing ego-strengthening songs on the red lacquered guitar across his back, while the foam that shoots up from the Hog comfortingly tickles the client’s cheecks?

As long as the characters and events maintain the client’s sense of safety and security, and integrity of self, and add humour and some form of reconnection to happier or more ppowrful experiences, anything is possible.

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