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Recovering Equilibrium in the Time of Trump

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Recovering Equilibrium in the Time of Trump

By Andy Weisskoff, LCSW

The morning after Trump’s election a sense of dread fell over me. Sebastopol, my home of seventeen years, felt for the first time treacherous. My psychotherapy clients, friends, and family have had similar reactions. Some can no longer bear looking at the news. Others can’t stop looking.

I work with adults with trauma histories using the eye movement therapy EMDR. Here’s how I understand how we’ve lost our equilibrium, and how we might be able to regain it.

The theory behind trauma treatment is that circumstances in the present remind us of dangerous situations from the past. When these memories are activated, the body assumes we are once again in danger, and reacts to the threat with the fight/flight/freeze response.

Unlike other animals, humans can review the present situation to see if it is actually dangerous. We humans can also launch more complex defenses than baring teeth, running away, or going limp. But sometimes the triggering is so intense that we are unable to examine the facts or to mobilize a plan. We are stuck sickeningly on guard.

One dominant set of traumatic memories awakened by Trump are about bullying. The dread I feel today is just like the dread I felt walking alone to elementary school, knowing the school bully was waiting for me along the path. For my wife, her childhood memories of two bullying fathers, the first a sexual predator, have come alive.

Trump threatens to put his opponents in jail. He threatens millions of not-yet-citizens with deportation. He threatens entire nations with nuclear annihilation. Trump’s body language and menacing speech resonate with any one of us who has been bullied.

 Trump is also a self-declared sexual predator. We’ve heard reports of sexual assault to girls as young as thirteen. Whether or not these reports are accurate, they are reminders of how men historically have gotten away with horrendous behavior, some of it upon our own bodies.

When the nervous system gets activated, it can feel as if prior attacks are happening right now. The purpose of trauma therapy is to calm down the nervous system enough to examine the memories that are triggering these intense emotions. Though there may be similarities between what happened in the past and what we see happening now, the situations are often quite different.

Various therapies, including EMDR, help clients identify these differences, especially the differences between current and past resources. For example, as children, if our parents didn’t defend us or were the perpetrators of abuse, we may have developed an enduring belief that we are helpless in the face of bullying. But as adults we have adult resources – physical strength, friends, the law – to name a few.

Often one or two sessions of EMDR can help soothe the central nervous system enough to allow this examination of current versus past resources. For people addressing childhood trauma for the first time, therapy takes longer. But EMDR is notorious for being the quickest route to recovery.

These days, all health insurances must provide mental health care including psychotherapy. There are many EMDR therapists in Sonoma County, ones who accept a variety of health insurances including MediCal. More people are eligible for MediCal, and MediCal provides more and better coverage than ever before.

To find a therapist who accepts your insurance, you can run a search at psychologytoday.com. If you don’t find what you’re looking for you can call your insurance directly. MediCal members should call Beacon Health Strategies at (855) 765-9703. 

One thing that helped my wife and me begin to separate past from present was booking flights to DC for the Women’s March on Washington, scheduled for the day after inauguration. (Local gatherings on that day can be found at womensmarchbayarea.org.) Surrounded by a million like-minded people, we hope to fully appreciate the breadth of our current resources, to let the bullies of the past go, and to face today’s bully with everything we’ve got.

 


 

You can learn more about EMDR on andyweisskoff.com, or on the website of the EMDR International Association, EMDRIA.org. You can also read an insider account of EMDR treatment in my wife Carol E. Miller’s 2016 memoir Every Moment of a Fall, available at Copperfield’s and through the library.