Click here for a video of an impala freezing to get away from a cheetah.
This freeze reaction is very common in the animal kingdom and equally in the human brain. Watch how the impala reacts after the danger has passed and the reaction on its body as the adrenaline bleeds off, causing the deep breathing and shaking, before it gets up and runs off to safety.
However, what often happens in the human brain is that the event is not processed and we get frozen in the trauma. Where the impala instinctively and literally shakes it off the adrenaline surge, our rational brain takes over and the memory is trapped in the brain. Sometimes the memory is hidden completely and sometimes it gets ‘stuck’ in the brain. These memories can cause a myriad of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, stress to name but a few. These memories are stored in the amygdala almost for safe keeping until they can be processed fully.
One of the most effective treatments to access these memories and fully process them is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) developed by Francine Shapiro. Bilateral stimulation (activating both sides of the brain at the same time) traditionally by eye movement, but more recently with tapping or audio stimulation, stimulates both sides of the brain at the same time. This stimulation creates new pathways in the brain, which help to process hidden — or not so hidden — memories and traumas.
I confess that as I headed to my training weekend, I was very skeptical. Many of my counsellor colleagues had been raving about how successful it had been. I definitely needed convincing. So I volunteered to be the client as the trainer showed us how it works. We worked on an issue I have with food and a week after the session, my brain is still processing and the new thoughts installed in that session are still with me. I was not even aware of how my brain was working, but I do know that for me it worked.
So then after the training I do the first session on a client with PTSD. He has flashbacks to an event 7 years ago, which are severe, and whilst he feels that he has processed the trauma and moved on, the flashbacks suggest that he has not. We worked on that particular event in his life and by the end of the session, he is now thinking about the incident without any reaction. It becomes a memory, not a trauma.
I am beyond convinced. Whilst I get the overall theory, I cannot explain exactly how the brain does it. But I have seen over and over again that it does work. The brain is an incredibly clever organ, that with the right help and stimulation can repair itself. I have seen this happen over and over again — with clients, with colleagues and with myself.
With these days of COVID, a question I get asked is can it be done over the internet. The answer is yes. I have worked with clients on zoom without any issues as have many of my colleagues.
I am proud to have added this amazing skill to my repertoire of resources. I have seen the power of this many times over. If you have something in your brain that you feel needs unblocking then please contact me at www.kestrelcounselling.com