In this episode, we are going to explore the ways in which the brain shuts down in response to trauma and how we combat that in EMDR therapy.

Introduction of the Triune Brain: 

*Rational Brain: The Rational Brain is evolutionarily the youngest part of our brain. It is responsible for hindsight, foresight and insight. The rational brain is also known as the executive center of our brain and is responsible for learning how to tell the story of what happened to us.

*Mammalian Brain: The mammalian brain is the second oldest part of the brain. It contains the Limbic System, which is responsible for emotions and memory. The Mammalian brain allows us to nurture our young and live in community with one another.

*Reptilian Brain: The Reptilian Brain is the oldest part of the brain. It is located in the brain stem. It is the most primitive and handles our most basic automatic functions such as breathing and heart rate. We don’t have to think about these things because our reptilian brain manages them all in the background.


Shutdown Sequence in Trauma and Trauma Work: 

* The brain’s processing with shut down from top to bottom while experiencing trauma as well as while processing a traumatic experience.

* This means that the rational part of the brain will go “off-line” first. This may result in the client losing access to clear speech, logic, time sequencing, etc. This may cause the client to become stuck in the emotional and somatic processing of the experiencing.

* If the shutdown sequence continues, the client may be left to a purely survival response (the reptilian brain).

Matching Interweave with their Current Activation State:

* In order to “meet the client where they are at” we need to show up with interweaves that connect with them in their current state of activation.

* If the client has experienced rational brain shut down, then bringing in an interweave that is focused on thought, perception, or fact is not going to reach them in their trauma processing.

* We may need to strategically select interweaves that guide our clients in to processing from each part of their brain. If a client as remained rational in all of their processing, utilizing an interweaves that brings them into a mammalian brain or reptilian brain state will promote a full brained processing approach.

Mapping Positive and Negative Cognitions on the Triune Brain:

* Some EMDR trainers would suggest that the categories of cognitions may correlate to the developmental timing of the trauma.

* Early Childhood Trauma = Safety and Vulnerability

* Elementary and Middle School aged Trauma = Responsibility and Self Defectiveness

* Adulthood Trauma= Control and Choice

* Borrowing that idea, we would like to suggest the possibility of the categories of negative and positive cognitions being mapped onto the triune brain perspective.

* Rational Brain: Cognitions related to Control and Choice

* Mammalian Brain: Responsibility and Self Defectiveness

* Reptilian Brain: Safety and Vulnerability


Katherine Keller

Trauma Informed Care Training (TIC)