Evoking calm in the presence of trauma
As part of my work as an EMDR therapist, I often use the Flash Technique, developed by Philip Mansfield as a way of integrating troubling memories so that they cease to trigger trauma symptoms.
The technique seems fairly unusual. Clients are asked to bring to mind the distressing material, but not to engage with it, just to put it to one side. We then get them really engaged in talking about something stimulating, while we use particular patterns of blinking, and bi-lateral stimulation (such as eye movements or tapping on alternate sides of the body). My clinical experience is that Flash works really well in reducing client reactions to the previously upsetting experiences, meaning we can then use the complete EMDR protocol to fully integrate the memories and leave the client free of their symptoms.
Clients often ask how the technique works, bemused by its effectiveness without having to go into or re-live experiences. Therapist and researcher Sik-Lam Wong recently explained that the traumatized client’s brain picks up the reminder of the traumatic memory and accesses the memory through the hippocampus, before going back to the Positive Engaging Focus, outside awareness. In this short time, the brain remains calm. This means the trauma memory and the calm brain are coexisting, which with many repetitions may result in memory reconsolidation and adaptive information processing.
It seems key to me that what is happening is that the brain remains calm while the trauma is present. This is deeply healing. The Flash technique is not the only way to achieve this, there are a range of therapies that are about maintaining regulation in the presence of the trauma. This regulation is a requirement for healing, without it, we risk re-traumatising the people we want to help.