How Does EMDR Therapy Work? Dr. Arielle Schwartz

EMDR Therapy for PTSD

How Does EMDR Therapy Work? Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Traumatic experiences can derail your life unless you have a way to process the event. EMDR Therapy helps you work through these difficult feelings and gets you back on the right track. The developer of this approach to trauma treatment, Francine Shapiro, says that we all have an innate capacity to process information and learn from all experiences, even difficult ones. She calls this process Adaptive Information Processing model. However, trauma can interrupt this natural process and can lead to distressing symptoms unless you have an opportunity to process the emotions and memories related to the event.

How does EMDR Therapy work? In order to better understand this process, we turn our attention to the way that memories are stored in the brain as a form of neural networks. A neural network is a group of interconnected brain cells (neurons) that fire together. Traumatic memories are maintained as maladaptive neural networks that result in a limited ability to adapt, process, and resolve traumatic stress. You can think of this like a record that has a scratch in it. The needle will skip on that spot repeatedly unless we intervene. (If you were born after record players went out of use, you can think of a CD that keeps getting stuck in the same spot).

“EMDR Therapy changes maladaptive neural networks by connecting the traumatic memory with new information. The distressing thoughts and emotions are blended with new positive thoughts and emotions; embodied awareness allows frozen sensations in the body to resolve through healing movements.”
-Arielle Schwartz

Continue reading

Empathy – Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Empathy (or how to adjust your faucet…)

Empathy Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Water drop by José Manuel Suárez

Empathy is a key element of the work that I do. As a psychotherapist, I am literally trained to not only listen to another but to sense and feel their experience with them. In truth I’ve been this way my whole life—empathy is one of those traits that goes along with being a highly sensitive person.

My sensitivity also defined much of my childhood. You see, when I was growing up I felt everything. If there was an emotion in the room I was sure to pick up on it. Often the emotions would build up in me and then I would start to feel anxious or overwhelmed or sad for “no reason.” It was easier when emotions were named by others. If someone was able to say “I’m sad” or “I’m angry” then I didn’t take it on. But, it was a lot harder with other peoples “unexpressed” or “suppressed” emotions. You know what I mean…when someone has an angry tone of voice and expression on their face but denies it and says, “I’m fine!” This is where things got really confusing!

As a child, empathy was automatic and not something that I had choice about…it was like a faucet left on full stream; I never knew that I could turn it down or off! As a result, there were times when I carried around a whole lot of emotional or psychic material. This could get pretty heavy. Sometimes I’d have big emotional meltdowns and not know why (those were embarrassing). Other times I’d get sick because all of these feelings left my body drained… Continue reading

The Psychology of Hate-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Diversity Matters in Psychotherapy

The psychology of hate

Throughout history, we see acts violence that target people because they are of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. After a recent series of hate crimes, I felt it important to take a closer look at the psychology of hate. Hate is motivated by dehumanization—the tendency to see other people as less than human. This act of making a person or group of people inferior has been a key motivating factor in prejudice, discrimination, and oppression.

“Ongoing discrimination and oppression can lead to Complex PTSD due to the long-term, chronic stress of uncertainty, threat of deportation, poverty, disability, or lack of a sense of social belonging. Therapists are in a unique position to empathically listen to and advocate for clients’ rights. Our actions can extend beyond the therapy room into the world as we advocate for social justice and the needs of people who have been marginalized.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Continue reading

Secondary Gains and Trauma Treatment-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

A Compassionate Approach to Care

Holistic Transformation Dr. Arielle Schwartz

This post addresses a difficult subject matter in regards to secondary gains in the treatment of chronic pain and illness. Hopefully, you will find that I bring a compassionate lens to the topic. A view that recognizes the frustrations that can arise when complex psychological factors are not addressed in trauma treatment and a perspective that does not blame the client.

Traditionally, the term secondary gain has been linked to clients who exaggerate physical symptoms of pain or illness or who fail to improve in treatment in order to receive certain advantages such a financial or housing support. However, clients who malinger or create factitious symptoms are actually quite rare. It is much more common that secondary gains aim to attend to deep unresolved attachment wounds or they are a way to achieve recognition of legitimate suffering. A concept closely related to secondary gains is the understanding that coupled with these gains are their related losses. Such losses are the genuine needs that are not being met in the client’s world currently.

“If you feel frustrated that your symptoms of pain or illness are not going away it can be valuable explore secondary gains sensitively and compassionately. This post attends to the importance of recognizing secondary gains in a way that does not blame you, the client. The goal of identifying secondary gains is to provide clarity about trauma targets that need to be addressed in order for treatment to be successful.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Continue reading

EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Mind and Body in Trauma Treatment

EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Image credit: Neuthaler

Effective trauma treatment requires a holistic way of addressing cognitive, emotional, and somatic symptoms. Traditional therapy attends to the cognitive and emotional elements of traumatic experience, the somatic experience is often left out of the room. EMDR Therapy uses a structured protocol for the treatment of post traumatic stress and related emotions, beliefs, and sensations. The traditional EMDR Therapy protocol already includes somatic awareness; however, interventions that enhance embodiment amplify body awareness in treatment.

“Therapists trained in the combined use of EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology have advanced tools to work with post traumatic stress. This post describes the importance of working within the “window of tolerance” to avoid re-traumatization in therapy. Read on to learn the difference between top-down and bottom-up processing. This post concludes with a practice of listening to your body for better self-care.”
Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Continue reading

Yoga for Chronic Pain-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Based on the Principles of Therapeutic Yoga

Dr. Arielle Schwartz Therapeutic Yoga

This post is part-two of a series on therapeutic yoga for chronic pain. Part-one provided the science behind the mind-body-pain connection and explored the role of the brain in pain, how trauma exacerbates chronic pain, and why we need to move to heal. In this post, I apply the principles of therapeutic yoga to working with chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, migraines, or back pain.

Yoga is a comprehensive and holistic approach to healing mind and body that involves meditation, breath awareness, spiritual inquiry, and living an ethical life. The word yoga is translated as “union” or to join together the mind and body through disciplined self-awareness. In most yoga classes, a teacher guides you to move with the breath, to focus your mind in the moment, and to cultivate a sense of curiosity about yourself. Within therapeutic yoga, personal inquiry becomes your greatest teacher. There is a decreased emphasis on the directives of an outer teacher guiding the outer shape of a posture and an increased focus on sensory awareness guiding intuitive, healing movements.

“Chronic pain experiences are often debilitating and can be life changing. It is common to feel powerless and overwhelmed. It is important to have predictable practices that offer relief for body, mind, and spirit. The principles of therapeutic yoga for chronic pain provide you with guidelines for your practice.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Continue reading

Chronic Pain Relief-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Reclaim your Body from Pain

Chronic Pain Relief Dr. Arielle Schwartz

When you sense and feel your body you are better able to take care of yourself. It’s sounds simple, right? We are more likely to recognize if we feel hungry, thirsty, need to go to the bathroom, or need to rest when we are attuned to our sensations. Try it by taking a deep breath. Are you able to notice any areas of stiffness or discomfort in your body? Do you sense a desire to adjust your posture to better support your spine or to create a feeling of opening across your chest?

This may sound simple, but, truth be told, for many people it’s really not that simple…especially if you have a history of trauma or chronic pain. You might find it very difficult to tune into sensations. It might feel safer to avoid feeling your body because you never know when you might feel the next uncomfortable, aching, or burning sensation.

“If you have a history of trauma or chronic pain, you may need to relearn the art of listening to your body in a safe and slow manner. This post is part one of a two-part series on chronic pain relief and explains the science behind the mind-body-pain connection. Read on to learn the role of the brain in pain, how trauma exacerbates chronic pain, and why we need to move to heal.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Continue reading

Businesses in Bloom Podcast-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

An Interview with Dr. Arielle Schwartz

This interview on the Businesses in Bloom Podcast with Juliet Austin looks at topics of my personal journey as a psychologist and author. Within, I share stories of my own work-life balance as a wife and mother of two. If you are building a psychotherapy practice and are curious to learn more about how social media, website support, and cultivating a successful business, check this out.

Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Continue reading

EMDR Therapy for Complex PTSD-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Is EMDR Therapy Appropriate for C-PTSD?

EMDR Therapy

Quite regularly I receive inquiries from clinicians and prospective clients asking me if it is appropriate to use EMDR Therapy for complex PTSD and childhood trauma. My short answer is yes, EMDR Therapy is an incredibly valuable therapeutic for treating C-PTSD; however, this powerful modality typically requires careful modification to attend to dysregulated and dissociative symptoms that often accompany early developmental abuse or neglect.

EMDR Therapy is an 8-phase treatment modality that systematically allows clients to process traumatic material and resolve lingering emotional, mental, and somatic distress. This post describes some of the most common modifications as related to the 8-phases that allow clients and clinicians to work together safely using EMDR Therapy for complex PSTD.

“Chronic, early developmental trauma memories are often preverbal and tend to be accompanied with dissociative symptoms. Therapists must emphasize the importance of resource development and careful pacing of EMDR Therapy so that clients feel safe in the present moment. You achieve successful treatment outcomes when you slowly build tolerance for the emotions and body sensations that accompany traumatic memories. The once overwhelming symptoms of C-PTSD can resolve as the client learns to turn toward pain and suffering with greater awareness and compassion.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Continue reading

Preventing Therapist Burnout-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Embodied Self-Care for Therapists

Preventing therapist burnout Dr. Arielle Schwartz

This post focuses on the importance of self-care for therapists who work with trauma. Without a commitment to self-care, maintaining a practice focused on the treatment of PTSD can have a significant impact on the mental, emotional, and physical health of the therapist. You can think of this impact as existing on a Burnout Continuum that begins with relatively mild caregiver stress that builds over time progressing into compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, secondary trauma symptoms, and, in the worst case, into complete burnout. Trauma counselors, such as those who practice EMDR therapy or Somatic therapy, need to have sufficient support to process the mental, emotional, and physical weight of the traumatic material that they are exposed to. Otherwise, it is common to begin to feel weighed down by the heaviness of this work and, as a result feel tension in the body, fatigue, and emotions of anger or resentment.

Clients with trauma often come in with extreme states of high or low arousal. They might be trembling with anxiety and panic, flattened by depression and despair, or numbed by dissociation. The psychophysiology of these states can be induced in therapists. When therapists recognize that they have joined with the physiology of the client they are better able to engage their boundaries or explore valuable self-care strategies. In addition, we must remember that therapists are people first. We come into the field of trauma work with our own historical wounds and injuries. This work tends to flush to the surface personal unfinished business such as unprocessed traumatic memories or attachment related material.

“We must take a preventative approach to mitigate therapist burnout by addressing risk factors and responding to early symptoms of caregiver stress. Too much empathy can have negative repercussions. A therapist must first start by resourcing and re-energizing the self. A therapist who focuses on self-regulation during a session can serve as an important model for the client. This process also allows the physiology of the therapist to be an available, present-centered resource for the client.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz Continue reading