The Emotional Processing of Traumatic Memories
When individuals experience or witness violence, the nervous system initiates a fight-or-flight response to prepare them to deal with a potentially dangerous situation. Unfortunately, after the threat is gone, this same response can occur when the individuals experience memories of the traumatic event. There is no personality type that is more susceptible to this type of response (e.g., even highly trained combat veterans can experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)), so there is no way to predict who will or will not experience post-traumatic stress symptoms that end up interfering with their lives.
It is a natural response to try to block unpleasant memories; in the case of traumatic memories, unfortunately, this very effort to avoid the memories can end up giving them an unwanted foothold in a person’s life, causing the memories to become more intrusive and disruptive the more they are avoided. This often takes the form of flashbacks and/or nightmares that cause the individual to feel as though he or she is once again experiencing the original trauma—and the nervous system ends up reacting much in the same way it did when the trauma occurred. In turn, this re-traumatization can end up creating a long-term cycle that causes PTSD to persist for many years.
This is why most evidence-based approaches to trauma contain an exposure element that can help individuals with the emotional processing necessary to gain mastery over their traumatic memories in order to break the cycle. Therapists have traditionally had to rely on two types of exposure: imaginal, with individuals calling up their memories in therapy, and “in vivo,” which is real-life exposure, often provided in the form of homework requiring a person to expose themselves to situations, environments, or objects that may be acting as traumatic reminders and/or triggers. At VR Therapy and Counseling there is no need for this type of homework because we are able to create all of these things in the safety and comfort of our facilities, all while we are there to help people as they work through their challenges.
Please feel free to call us with any questions about this process, or to set up a free consultation to learn more about our services. You may reach us by phone at 616-988-9049, email at email@example.com, or simply stop by our building at 1618 Leonard St NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505. Our website, www.vrtherapy.org, also has several sections to help you find more information about our services.