Bilatéral Processing Techniques
For our brain to be able to store the things that happen every day in our life, information is processed across both hemispheres of our brain. This is referred to as bilateral processing. Information is stored in pieces; audio in one place, visual in another, content in another, your feelings about the information in another…. The way that these pieces find their appropriate place is to be processed back and forth between the hemispheres. This process can be augmented by body activity. For example, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) utilizes eye movement to augment bilateral processing, just as your body does in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
Activity which happens alternatively between the two sides of the body stimulates the processing of the brain; action on the right side of the body stimulates the left side of the brain, action on the left side of the body stimulates the right side of the brain. This explains why sometimes taking a walk (alternate sides of the body being utilized) helps us to work out a problem or challenge.
In therapy, introducing activity that the client can do while talking through a difficult emotion or situation is very helpful. Encouraging them to squeeze stress balls alternately, patting one’s legs alternately, bouncing a ball from hand to hand, eye movement from side to side, or using Thera-tappers, are all examples of using the body to assist the brain in processing.
Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR)
Traumatic Incident Reduction falls under a category of treatment known as Re-telling. The basic premise is that if you tell your traumatic story over and over to the point that it becomes boring….it’s no longer traumatic.
TIR provides a structure to this idea. The client is asked to think the event through from beginning to end, then tell the story verbally from beginning to end. This process is repeated until there is a shift in the way the client tells the story. When shifts occur the client is asked to evaluate the level of discomfort the memory of the event now brings them. The activity is repeated until the discomfort is minor or eliminated. If, in this process, the client remembers a similar feeling or event, they are asked if they would like to reduce the impact of this newly remembered event, and the same process is followed for the new event. The premise for this is that very often traumatic events are built on the feelings and reactions to a previous trauma.
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)
Emotional Freedom Techniques come under the broader area of ‘tapping therapies’ or Energy Psychology. EFT works on the premise that when we store the memory of an event, it is stored in certain neuro-networks which control specific chemical and energy responses in the body. The energy response is the focus of EFT.
Energy in the body, according to EFT, follows meridians in the body. These are the same meridians that are the focus of acupuncture treatment. In mal-adaptive situations, the energy flows in an unhealthy way. EFT utilizes tapping on points on the meridians to guide the energy in more healthy pathways, while thinking about and reviewing the memories of the negative event. By doing this, EFT teaches the body to channel the response energy through healthy channels when remembering the event, allowing the body to respond in a more healthy way.
Safe Space Imagery
When we experience a negative, or traumatic event, the repeated memories and pictures of the event cause the brain to form a neuro-network that will insure that the body and brain responds to the memory of this event in the same way every time; this response is known as the fight, flight, freeze response.
The fight, flight, freeze response in our body changes our chemistry increasing the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) in our body. This affects almost every body function, and our ability to learn, short-term memory, and minimizes the executive functioning of our brain (strategy, comparison, projection into future, etc.). So, the memories, pictures, images of the event stimulate a neuro-network that causes a fight, flight, freeze response in our body.
One way to help a client counter this response is to assist them to create a different image in their head, a safe image, which causes a different, healthier chemical reaction. By assisting the client to create a safe-place image in their head that is as intense as the negative images, a new neuro-network is formed which directs a more healthy body response through the release of serotonin, endorphins and dopamine. Endorphins actually reduce cortisol levels, allowing the body to function more normally, and the brain to work in a less restricted manner.
Once the client has created a strong safe-place image, they must learn to default to this image any time the traumatic images come to mind. The more the client practices going to safe-place when trauma arises, the stronger they will become in controlling their thoughts, and the result of those thoughts in their body.
Focus on a Locus of Hope
After a traumatic event it is often difficult for a client to find hope in their life. However, the experience of hope activates the left frontal lobe of our brain, which releases serotonin, and reduces the activity of the amygdala. The amygdala is our fear center. By experiencing hope, our fear center is temporarily shut down. So, by helping a client to find a point of hope somewhere in their life, and focusing on it, assists them in reducing their feelings of fear. (The left frontal lobe of the brain is activated when we experience hope, when we pray, meditate, or utilize our coping mechanisms.)
Changing attention is based on the premise that ‘where you put your attention, your brain will follow, and your body will follow that’. As we saw in safe-space imagery when the client is thinking about the trauma, the traumatic neuro-network is activated in the brain, which brings about a chemical change in the body leading to unhealthy body function. By changing the client’s attention to the safe-space image, a different neuro-network is activated in the brain, resulting in a different chemical response in the body resulting in more healthy body function. Encouraging the client to change their attention while focusing on the traumatic images can help teach the brain to react to those images in a different, more healthy way, resulting in healthier body function.
Research has shown that when religion or spirituality is introduced into the mental health intervention it helps to reduce the client’s stress and improve coping skills by:
- Promoting a positive world view
- Helping to make sense of difficult situations
- Providing purpose and meaning
- Providing a sense of hope for the future.
Duane defines spirituality as how we relate to that which is bigger than us. Some people may call that which is bigger than us God, Allah, universe, nature, Goddess… The way that we express our relationship with that which is bigger than us is called religion. Therapy often provides a safe place in which to explore or question one’s spirituality/ religion without fear of judgment, dogma or retribution.
Duane Bowers is an ordained clergy member of the Universal Life Church, holds an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Universal Life Church Seminary, and is a recognized Celebrant.
NOTE: These approaches may be used individually, or in conjunction with each other. These interventions provide the client with control over their mental and physical response to the traumatic event, but do not affect the emotional/spiritual response to the event. In other words, the meaning, value and emotions that the client has assigned to this event have not been explored or improved. Complete treatment for trauma includes working with the body, mind and emotional/spiritual response of the client.