First I discovered it deep within myself and called it “trauma since the sperm hit the egg.” Then I read that Bessel van der Kolk calls it “developmental trauma,” in his drive to have it finally recognized by the psychiatric profession. Dr. Allan Schore calls it “trauma in the first 1000 days, conception to age two.” Earlier it was “complex PTSD” or C-PTSD.
In EMDR therapy, Dr. Sandra Paulsen, therapist Katie O’Shea, LCPC (who began this work), and D. Michael Coy, MA, LCSW, use “Early Trauma” (ET). The science is in Chaps. 16 & 20 of Paulsen’s 2014 book. [FN1]
Well: “ET, phone home!” Dr. Paulsen & friends have good news: they’ve created new EMDR therapy protocols to heal developmental trauma. -kb ]
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy “enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that result from disturbing life experiences,” says Dr. Francine Shapiro’s EMDR Institute website. Standard EMDR therapy has been shown to heal traumatic memories with a conscious, visual component, also called “explicit” memory. As EMDR clinicians, we have seen frankly astounding changes in our clients, both in how they see themselves and in how they experience and take initiative in the world.
But with in utero and infant Early Trauma (ET) occurring from conception to age three, also called developmental trauma, there is no conscious, explicit narrative memory — infants have not developed the parts of the brain which can think. These traumas precede the existence of consciousness, so they’re called pre-conscious or “implicit” memories. Such memories are “somatic,” that is, held purely in the body — so healing is far more challenging.
How can we listen to the unspoken experience when, so early on, there were no words to tell it? How can we help the body tell its silent—or silenced—story?
Limitations of EMDR Therapy Standard Protocols
1) There is no explicit memory in the first years of life, only implicit memory, so the standard EMDR procedure of targeting a memory of trauma could not apply;
2) If a client were able to access early experience in EMDR therapy, it could easily be overwhelming, without adequate preparation;
3) Early experience, when accessed, also accesses the client’s “felt sense” from that early time, with all the limits of self and inner structure that went along with pre-natal, infant, and early childhood developmental stages; [FN1]
4) Because of the paramount importance of relationship and caregiver attachment in infancy, the processing of early experience via EMDR therapy required modification to ensure the client had the felt sense of the therapist’s compassionate and attentive presence; and,
5) Because very early experience is ephemeral and does not consciously register as pictures or videos (as later memories may), the new EMDR therapy needed to explicitly accommodate the subtlety of infant early processing.
For these reasons a four step protocol was developed, starting with the work of therapist Katie O’Shea, who later brought it to the attention of Sandra Paulsen. They then worked to make these new ideas coherent with the latest neurobiology research by Jack Panksepp, Allan Schore, Daniel J. Siegel, et. al. ...