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  • Writer's pictureErin Grahn MA LPCC LAC

How Do I Make It Stop?

Updated: Apr 24, 2018

PTSD | Willow Tree Counseling | WTC | Erin Grahn MA LPCC LAC | Fargo | EMDR
PTSD | Willow Tree Counseling | WTC | Erin Grahn MA LPCC LAC | Fargo | EMDR

Have you ever had an experience which was unexpected or that you did not have the resources or skills to cope with the experience? If so, you may have noticed changes in how you think, feel, or act since the experience and the changes may or may not be desirable.

Sometimes these experiences which were unexpected or that we were ill equipped to deal with can leave us feeling stuck. Stuck in a way in which we feel like time stopped when the event occurred. Stuck in a way that you find yourself thinking about the experience unintentionally. Stuck in a way that you find yourself reacting to the experience and not knowing why you are reacting that way.

There are many ways in which we can feel stuck. And if you are stuck you likely have attempted numerous ways to change. For the lucky ones it works. But what about the rest us that are unable to go back to our ‘normal’ selves?

It is possible that in these situations in which you were unable to go back or become unstuck that you may have experienced some type of trauma. Don’t panic because you just read the word ‘trauma’. Trauma can indicate a wound, such as a paper cut or a scrape to the knee. Within counseling, the word trauma does mean something similar to the medical term, but is not something can easily be seen.

Trauma means:

  • Not having the necessary skills to cope with an event

  • Left responding as though the experience were still occurring even though the initial experience is over

Research has found that trauma can also cause changes in the brain – more specifically within the hippocampus, amygdala, and the medial prefrontal cortex – each area performing a specific job.

The hippocampus’s job is to assist in transporting memories to be stored within the long-term memory and differentiate between past and present memories. If one’s hippocampus is damaged, the person is unable to develop new memories. When trauma occurs, the hippocampus shrinks which can then lead to the ability to overcome fear responses (AKA repetition of the memory and more specifically the emotions, perceptions, and behaviors that occurred during the initial trauma).

Now the amygdala has a different job. The amygdala’s job is to tell us when we are in danger and give us appropriate arousal responses to allow us to do what we need to keep ourselves safe (AKA the FIGHT, FLIGHT, or FREEZE responses).

The medial prefrontal cortex regulates our emotions. If this area goes awry, it tells the amygdala to have intense emotions.

However, knowing the independent functions of the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the medial prefrontal cortex is important, it is of greater value to understand how these two regions on our brains interact. Very simply put, the hippocampus tells the amygdala when to panic and the medial prefrontal cortex determines the strength of the panic.

You may be thinking, “Well that’s great to know all of that but how does that help me?”

If you have tried ‘talk therapy’ and found that it was unhelpful it likely is due to the fact that the therapy is unable to address neurological changes that have occurred in the brain. However, there is a therapy called EMDR that can assist.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. The short and sweet explanation of the therapy is that it assists with communication between our logic and our emotions. You may know that you are experiencing a response that does not match the situation and no matter what you do you still experience panic (or other emotion you had at the time of the initial event). The end result is a decrease in the intensity, frequency, and type of unwanted response when we experience something that reminds us of the former situation. Remember the science lesson I gave you earlier? EMDR assists in restoring brain structures back to their original state (or as close as possible).

If you want to learn more about it or explore the option of engaging in the therapy I would encourage you to reach out to a trained EMDR professional. Willow Tree Counseling is an EMDR provider and is open to answering questions you may have. If you would like to know more please call (701) 730-8313 or e-mail for more information.

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