How I Learned to Combine EMDR and Mind-Body Medicine in Trauma Therapy
Y’all, when I started my path of becoming a trauma therapist, I wasn’t quite sure what this ride would entail. All I knew was that the tools I learned in graduate school weren’t taking folks where they wanted to be on their healing journey. So, I sought to learn more tools and modalities to help trauma survivors. One of these modalities is Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR). I remember completing my training in EMDR and thinking okay, this is THE answer for helping trauma survivors. Also, if I am being completely honest, it’s also marketed as the bee’s knees for trauma therapy.
As I began implementing EMDR, I was reminded of the adage different strokes for different folks. To be clear, EMDR is absolutely helpful for many people, but healing is not monolithic. In my work, I found that using EMDR requires a level of body awareness called interoception. Interoception is the ability to recognize bodily sensations or, in other words, to know what’s going on inside your body. Interoception is a key part of EMDR because EMDR includes recognizing sensations and tolerating uncomfortable bodily sensations long enough to work on desensitizing them. A big part of EMDR involves helping to decrease the body’s heightened response to trauma by desensitizing. But, recognizing and sitting with uncomfortable emotions is understandably hard for trauma survivors.
EMDR therapy alone is not always enough
You see, trauma, at its core, disconnects the mind, body, and spirit. This disconnection often develops as a necessary coping skill to survive hurtful situations. This mind, body, and spirit disconnection happens throughout the body and brain, but a lot happens in the insula. The insula is the part of our brain that helps us identify sensations and emotions. For Black folk who’ve survived generations of slavery, our insula helped our ancestors disconnect from physical abuse, rape, and other physical pain. Our insula basically said, “Yeah, this hurts; ill help you not feel or recognize this pain.” For Black folks, this power of our body and mind has been a key to our survival. Understanding it is also a key to healing.
Once I realized I connected these things, I made a shift in my work to begin combining Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy with Mind-Body Medicine skills.
How I Combine EMDR with Mind-Body Medicine Skills
In combining these, one of the first things I work with clients on is sensory and somatic work. This work includes exploring the complexity of bodily responses and sensations. It also includes curiosity about what triggers these sensations, heightens them, and lowers them.
To do this, I typically utilize talk therapy and non-verbal communication by asking questions like: What are you noticing? or What is your body communicating to you right now? These questions help guide me in explorative conversations with clients about triggers. They also help me, as a trauma-trained mind-body therapist, in brainstorming which mind-body interventions might be helpful based on what’s happening in the body.
This might include a mind-body skill of breathwork to stimulate the vagus nerve and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This might include an EMDR tool for visualizing a comfortable place to increase familiarity with feelings of peace, calm, or comfortability. Often times it includes techniques like body scans which invite a person to explore sensations from head to toe.
Combining these tools help people begin to understand what’s happening in their body and increases their interoceptive awareness. This then helps people regulate emotions and communicate sensations to aid in EMDR therapy. I believe strongly that Black folk deserve to feel at home in their bodies. In my practice, combining these skills helps each person come home to themselves.
Get started with integrative EMDR therapy in Baltimore, MD
As a Black, queer, trauma therapist, I know that it’s hard to find the tools. It’s even harder to find someone that’s willing to guide you as you learn to implement these tools. You don’t have to jump into these EMDR waters alone or quickly. Pacing yourself is a way you treat yourself with ease, kindness, and grace. I’m here to help you do the work. I’d be honored to help you come home to yourself.
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- Begin the new chapter of the rest of your life.