UNDERSTANDING HOW TRAUMA CHANGES THE BRAIN
Joyce Andresen, LISW, EMDR Certified Therapist and Consultant in Training from Black Hawk-Grundy MHC in Waterloo, shares her application of material from Van Der Kolk's book, The Body Keeps the Score, a recent focus of our Book Club in the following post.
"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 of his book 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 being abused in their past. I ask them to tell me what they think is going on in this picture.
Most victims of child abuse 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
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 Joyce.Andresen@unitypoint.org (319) 234-2893 ext. 276.