UNDERSTANDING HOW TRAUMA CHANGES THE BRAIN

Joyce Andresen, LISW, EMDR Certified Therapist and Approved Consultant from Andresen Counseling and Consulting, LLC, and Black Hawk-Grundy MHC in Waterloo, shares her application of material from Van Der Kolk's book, The Body Keeps the Score. She particularly utilizes this with clients who believe they have no childhood trauma, minimize or deny the impact, lacking understanding of how the ‘past is present,’ as Shapiro would say.

"Trauma changes the way we perceive the world. As pointed out in Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score, our brains are often stuck in trauma time. Victims of trauma remain hyper vigilant; their brains are constantly scanning for danger.

Sometimes I use an illustration in Van Der Kolk’s book to show abuse victims how their brains are forever changed. On page 107 is a black and white picture of a man partially under a car, and two children in a garage. I show this picture to adults who have reported adverse experiences in their past and ask them to tell me what they think is going on in this picture. 

Most victims of child abuse or neglect will pick up on the fact the little girl is holding a hammer. They also frequently comment on the fact the hammer could be used as a weapon to keep herself safe. They also perceive the boy’s position by the car as an opportunity to let the car fall on the man who is partially under the car.  They may comment on this being the boy’s chance to hurt the man.

When I point out to them that both of the children are smiling in the picture, they are usually surprised to notice that. I ask if it is possible the children are helping their dad?  Then I read the paragraphs that follow the picture. The text talks about how abuse victims look for danger in the picture whereas people without abuse in their background view this picture as the kids helping their dad to fix the car so they can do something fun together as a family. 

This picture and the perception of it can tell a lot about a client. I have used this picture to talk about how different people view the world depending on their previous life experiences.  It also opens up conversation to talk about how trauma affects perception.  I am careful to point out it is important for them to keep themselves safe. We also begin to look at times their perceptions may create unnecessary anxiety about the world and others who live in it."

- Joyce Andresen, Approved Consultant, EMDR Consulting Basic Training Coach, EMDRIA NE Iowa Regional Coordinator

Thanks, Joyce for this creative addition to assisting clients in understanding the significant impact of trauma on the brain. It truly illustrates how the 'past remains present,' the focus of EMDR therapy. You can reach Joyce at andresencc.com Ph. (319) 313-2667.

Bonnie Mikelson, LISW
Director, EMDR & Beyond LLC

Bonnie MikelsonComment