Beyond Talk Therapy

When Words Aren’t Enough: Beyond Talk Therapy

by Laya Seghi, LCSW

Did you ever wonder why people who spent years in traditional therapy often remain as insecure and neurotic as ever?  Woody Allen comes to mind as a prime example.  No matter how much rational understanding there may be about the issues they face, their emotional reactions seem to remain out of their control.

The latest research in brain science helps to explain why that is so. Since the 1990’s, brain imaging technology such as PET scans and fMRI’s have been able to show how the brain processes memories, sensations and emotions.  Activation of the amygdala in the right limbic or emotional brain is the most commonly known response to intense emotion such as fear.  Perceiving a threat, the amygdala alerts the rest of the brain and body, triggering stress hormones, nerve impulses and a cascade of physical reactions to prepare the body for fight or flight.

Less known is this surprising finding:  the region of the left frontal cortex called Broca’s area – one of the speech centers of the brain – shows a significant decrease when the emotional brain is triggered.  So when fear, rage or helplessness is up, the amygdala sounds the alarm, the hippocampus encodes the threatening event into memories and the ability to put words to the feelings goes off-line.

After years of practicing traditional therapy, I realized that some emotional experiences are so deeply buried in the body that they cannot be resolved by talk alone.  When distress and trauma are stored as “implicit” memory, disconnected from the cortical function of logic, reason and speech, it becomes necessary to go beyond talk therapy.

Beginning with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) in 1997, clients in my practice began to experience rapid clinical change, even before the scientific evidence was in.  Anxiety, depression, and trauma were resolving in record time.  Inspired by the results, I studied multiple body-mind treatment modalities that access the pre-verbal part of the brain.

Now when a client presents with unspeakable overwhelm, we test to find the most appropriate and effective treatment to remove the neurological imbalance.  Once the deep emotion locked in the body is released, the nervous system becomes balanced again.  Finally words and a story can be told that make sense of one’s experience.

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