Archive for EMDR

Guest Post: Somatic Sensations, Symbolic Imagery & Somatic Releases

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When we’ve been traumatized by child abuse, we generally feel we’re the only person in the whole world to experience strange emotions and physical symptoms. I’m grateful to guest blogger, Cathy, for sharing her own somatic results of trauma.

Over the course of my 17 year journey in recovering from childhood trauma, I have come to understand that past trauma can manifest as physical sensations in the body (‘somatics’). Throughout my healing journey, I have regularly experienced physical sensations in my body and symbolic imagery in my mind’s eye. I now believe that these symbolic images are ‘messages’ from my subconscious mind (‘my depths’) to my conscious mind (‘my surface’) which help me to understand, comprehend, process and ultimately, to work through an aspect of my original trauma or a particular stage of my healing. My understanding is that these symbolic images in my mind’s eye are a bit similar to what happens during Focusing (, where we’re able to get in touch with our own ‘felt sense’ or our innate, inner wisdom within our bodies.

Below is a summary of the somatic sensations and symbolic imagery that go with my own sense of the emotional pain and tension that I’ve experienced within my body over the years:

  • A strong sense that there is a fist-sized boil in my heart area that needs to be lanced.
  • Fantasising about using a large diameter drill to drill into the fist-sized boil in my heart area, releasing a huge spurt of pus that flies across the room, immediately releasing and freeing up the massive build-up of pressure, discomfort and pain in my heart area.
  • Fantasising about lying on a table in an operating theatre in a hospital and having a surgeon cut open the area around my heart to surgically remove my emotional pain. My EMDR/trauma therapist told me that some of her clients had actually had body parts surgically removed due to a “persistent pain” in this area only to find that their “persistent [emotional] pain” returned to another area of their body post-surgery.
  • Fantasising about a zip running down the centre of my chest that I can unzip to release a flock of doves out of my chest, allowing them to fly away freely off into the sky.
  • Feeling as though I have a volcano inside my torso that is about to erupt.
  • Seeing another adult me sitting within me, in the pit of my stomach, naked, in the snow, shivering, defenceless, cold, alone, isolated and desperately wanting to get out.
  • Watching another me bending down to look into the shards of a broken mirror shattered all over the floor and seeing my fractured self reflected back at me from the many, many shards and fragments of broken mirror spread across the floor.
  • Experiencing my own sense of internal fragmentation as: can you imagine that you’re staying at my house, you have a bag of belongings with you and your belongings are spread out all over my house, with at least one of your belongings in each room of my home? Then I say to you, “we have to leave in 30 seconds” and in response you experience a sense of panic as you attempt to collect all of your belongings from their sprawled out places all over my house in an instant. This is how I often feel, I need to ‘collect’ all of the different parts of myself to literally ‘bring or pull myself together’ before I get out of bed, begin a task or step out of my front door.

Over the course of my 17 years of therapy, particularly over the last 5 years as I’ve discovered and increasingly explored different body-centred healing modalities, such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), FasterEFT, reiki, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Network Chiropractics (, I’ve progressively experienced more and more somatic releases (ie. expressing, ‘surfacing’ and releasing of my inner pain from within, out through my body). Here is a summary of the full range of somatic releases that I’ve experienced over the last five years of the emotional pain, terror and tension resulting from my childhood trauma that I have carried within my body/being/organism since the original trauma occurred:

  • Burping – burps that come from deep within me, they almost have an old, musty book smell or quality to them, suggesting to me that they come from my past (not the present moment), sometimes my ‘trauma release burps’ demand my full attention, I have to drop everything, brace and prepare myself in order to allow them to surface.
  • Sneezing – excessively loud and powerful sneezing, often demanding that my whole body gets involved in my sneeze. Did you know that our current tradition of saying “bless you” after someone sneezes originated from an ancient idea that we are releasing bad spirits when we sneeze? This makes perfect sense to me!
  • Coughing – excessive, lung wrenching coughing for sustained periods occasionally during Network Chiropractic sessions, like a chain smoker, even though I’m not a smoker
  • Stiffness in my jaw and aching and soreness in my face, particularly around my temples and behind my eyebrows
  • Excessive stomach grumbling, gurgling and tingling
  • Spontaneous full body shaking, jerking and tremouring (as per Traumatic Release Exercises, TRE,
  • Contractions or tightening in one area of my body such as my heart area, almost like labour contractions, suggesting to me that something substantial wants to be ‘birthed’, or released from deep within
  • Giggling and laughing
  • Crying and sobbing
  • Screaming
  • Yawning and sighing
  • Farting
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • More frequent urination.

My Network Chiropractor informed me that the body’s capacity to suddenly and rapidly expel substances from our bodies is a primal fright or flight instinct, designed to ‘free up’ the body, to literally ‘lighten our body’s load’ in response to a life threatening event (or even an event that is ‘only’ perceived to be life threatening, consider a vulnerable, defenceless small child’s take on this!!), to allow our mind/body to focus it’s attention and energy exclusively on preparing for freeze or flight, similar to a pilot in a hot air balloon who decides to throw heavy objects overboard in the event of an unexpected descent.

Our mind-body system is endlessly fascinating to me. Through my somatic experiences, symbolic imagery and somatic releases, I’ve come to understand and know that our mind and body are intricately and completely linked.

Peter Levine has developed a healing technique called Somatic Experiencing (, he is also the author of a book called Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma, a fascinating book about the phenomena of somatic experience.

Do-It-Yourself EMDR

How often have you wished you had a therapist at your side when you get triggered or can’t shake your anxiety or depression.

Here’s an EMDR-based practice you can do yourself. It’s safe to do on your own. Unlike EMDR, it won’t open up Pandora’s Box. It will simply calm your nervous system and put you in charge of your mental state.

Sit comfortably in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.

Close your eyes (if this is okay for you to do. If not, keep your eyes open.)

Watch your breath. Don’t change anything: just watch yourself breathing.

Bring the palm of each hand to the opposite upper arm. You are now hugging yourself.

With your fingers, exert gentle pressure alternately on the left, then on the right. Left,  right,  left,  right,  left,  right.

Your tapping is like the beating of your heart.

If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your tapping and to your breath that is becoming slower and calmer.

You can do this anytime you need to change your mental state.

The more you practice, the more skilled you’ll become at calming your body and your mind.

In my next blog post I’ll share with you another effective tool you can use safely on your own.

A Reader Asks: Which to do First – EMDR or Focusing?

I received this very interesting question and thought that you too might benefit from the answer.

Dear Mary,

I use to be a PTSD therapist, but I left the field many years ago. I’ve decided to come back to the field (after 16 years), but I want and need to do some training. I’ve been looking at Focusing and EMDR, would you have a recommendation of which one I should start with? I’ve doing a lot of research in these areas, but I’m feeling confused (I’m trying to get enough info. about both areas to make an educated decision). Would both (focus/emdr) benefit me? Do you use one more than the other (maybe they just hand-in-hand)? If I worked with a different population do you think both would be helpful? I greatly appreciate your time and help.

Thank you for your time, Elisheva Rabinowitz Read more

EMDR? What’s that?

Before I learned Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing, I had considerable success in treating victims of childhood trauma. Yet, there were always some aspects of trauma remaining. People were still triggered into panic by sounds, smells or sights which are benign in the present but propell them back into a terrifying past. This happens so fast there is no time to think about it. As well, their exaggerated startle response to any sudden noise remained.

What wasn’t known back when I was using standard therapies, is that trauma is held in the right side of the brain, the emotional side. The trauma does not have access to the left brain, the logical, cognitive side. It’s only an eighth of an inch between the two halves, but the spark can’t jump the gap, so to speak. EMDR allows the right side to connect with the left and “reprocess” the experience.

How is this done? EMDR treatment involves the bi-lateral stimulation of the brain: left side, right side by directing the eyes from side to side, tapping the hands, using headphones to send sound to the left and then to the right ear. This bi-lateral stimulation uses the brain’s natural way of dealing with upsetting emotion. Think of the rapid eye movement when someone is dreaming. Dreaming is not enough to handle the terror of trauma. The brain needs added help to clear the emotion.

EMDR takes advantage of the brain’s natural way of dealing with emotion. The EMDR practitioner guides the client’s eyes with her fingers, a light wand or a light bar. Sometimes the practitioner uses light tapping on the hands or knees.

Typically, clients start out very upset by the memory and end up putting the upset in the past where it belongs. Measuring the degree of upset on a scale of 0 – 10, people may start out with a 10 and end up with a 0 or 1.

Practitioners of EMDR specialize in helping clients heal from psychological trauma. They are psychotherapists with a thorough understanding of trauma and its effects on people. The eye movement described in this post is safe only in the hands of such professionals.

You can find out more on the EMDR website at