So, to recap, when people manifest the effects of trauma, it’s because the memory has been maladaptively stored in an unintegrated form. The solution to trauma, then, is to re-encode the memory in a form that’s integrated left-right.
Okay, so far we know that, in the course of life, as difficult things happen to us, memory gets encoded in an unintegrated form sometimes. We have a way to re-encode the memory, in an adaptive form, built into us. How good is that? You know, we’ve been created to be resilient beings. Let’s look at how that works in everyday life.
Suppose you say something stupid and you hurt somebody’s feelings at work. You go home, you kick the refrigerator, you think about quitting your job, you tell your mate you blundered and feel like an idiot. While you’re doing this, you’re feeling the negative emotions with your right brain and you’re talking and reasoning about it with your left brain – left-right integration – back and forth. Then you go to bed, and you have muddled dreams about it during REM sleep. Packets of information move from side to side during your sleep – left-right, left-right. You wake up and you’re not as emotional as the night before. You decide to write a letter to the person you offended and buy them a gift to show them you’re serious. The whole episode becomes metabolized. Something bad turns into good experience, because it’s now filed in your brain “Stupid things – never do again” category. The memory has been re-encoded in an adaptive way. It used to be hurtful; now it’s helpful. Most of us do this all the time.
Let’s look at another example. In her awesome book, Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman uses the example of the Andrea Doria, an Italian ocean liner that went down off the US coast near Nantucket, in 1956, in a collision with another ship. Forty-six people died, but 1,660 people were rescued. The survivors were taken to port and put up wherever could be found. Doctors, psychologists, counselors, social workers came to help. They noticed these people could not stop talking about the event. They were putting it in perspective – desensitizing themselves of it by talking about it. They were processing it adaptively and re-encoding it as they talked.
When we go to a therapist, the therapist helps us go in and out of the hurt. She encourages us to evoke the emotion and then to talk about what it means – going from the right to the left, and back again – bilateral stimulation of the brain. If we project the emotions into some medium, such as art, music, drawing or play…sometimes we do that in a conscious way: “Let’s see. What color represents how I feel?” So we see the left-right brain activity going there again. There’s logical thinking about it and some emotional thinking about it. Or sometimes, it’s unconscious, like in REM sleep. But either way, projectives are another way to adaptively process, or metabolize, traumatic events.
By contrast, I saw a video recently of a woman who was in a subway bombing. She was treated with emersion therapy. The video, I think, was to show how emersion therapy worked. She told the story over and over and over and over again. It was recorded and she had to listen to the story over and over and over and over again. Just watching the video was excruciating, not to mention what she was going through as the client. It was noted, in the film, that she’d been at it for three months. She did not yet seem to have a logical exposition of the event, but instead, a hodge-podge of flashbacks. In looking at it, I was not sure she was being healed of the experience in the same way that it had occurs in EMDR.