Healing Community Trauma: The Traditional Approach
In 2017, a gunman opened fire during a music festival, killing 59 people and injuring 500 more. Many people in attendance at this concert were from southern Utah. As the regional coordinator for EMDRIA (EMDR International Association), I took the lead in guiding traumatized people through a group therapy protocol, which was developed for healing community trauma. I also conducted several individual therapy sessions. Although I know firsthand that EMDR therapy is a much better therapy than traditional talk therapies, I saw many people continue to struggle with insomnia, focus, and emotional triggers in between sessions.
In an effort to help them manage better in between our appointments, I provided them with Bi-Tapp tappers. Bi-Tapp uses bilateral tapping to calm the fight/flight response in the brain. After a trauma, bilateral stimulation calms an overactive amygdala, allowing it to synchronize with the rest of the brain. For everyone who received tappers, the result was unanimous: they all reported feeling significantly less overwhelmed and anxious. They slept better and their daily functioning improved. They also reported recovering more quickly from triggers when using the tappers.
I began to wonder about the thousands of people who had attended the Route 91 festival but hadn’t sought out therapy. How were they coping? Could tappers benefit them? In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van der Kolk cites a post-9/11 study revealing that few people actually seek formal help following a trauma. (1) We need to provide communities with options beyond therapy to help people impacted by trauma bring their nervous systems back into regulation.
Starting the Healing with Nervous System Regulation
When another tragedy struck in Enoch, Utah, in January 2023, we took a new approach to healing community trauma. Partnering with the Friends of Iron County Sheriff, we provided Bi-Tapp tappers to traumatized individuals. We also conducted the EMDR group protocol and provided individual therapy sessions. Tappers were given to law enforcement officers, local schools, and impacted community members. All ages could use the tappers whenever they felt overwhelmed, unable to concentrate, anxious or triggered.
The tappers gave everyone, regardless of age or treatment attendance, a simple way to regulate their nervous systems and regain calm.
A teacher at Enoch Elementary described the impact:
“My classroom received Bi-Tapp tappers through generous donations. One of my students, a close friend of the Haight family, used to miss school frequently due to extreme anxiety. Since we received the tappers, she has worn them nearly every day and can now attend class calmly, learn, and participate without overwhelming anxiety. She visits the ‘Paws room’ less often and focuses better in class. The tappers have improved her ability to calmly attend and learn at school.”
When Triggered, It’s Difficult to Remember Calming Strategies You’ve Been Taught
If you’ve experienced a crisis, trauma, or tragedy, you know it’s hard to remember what people say or follow suggestions. The activated fight/flight response takes over, flooding your body with cortisol and impairing mental and physical functioning.
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist, states, “Until we pause to calm down and feel safe again, we can’t think clearly. Test anxiety, for example, leads to poor performance, regardless of preparation, because the triggered limbic anxiety circuitry cuts off access to higher cortical thinking centers, where learned knowledge resides.” (2)
Her statement applies to test anxiety, but applies to any situation where our fight/flight system is activated. Although therapists teach their clients calming strategies, people often forget to use them when they’re upset or triggered. The tappers make regulation automatic, calming the amygdala without the triggered person needing to do anything besides hold the tappers. (3)
Tappers Regulate the Nervous System Automatically
By holding tappers, a person immediately benefits from the regulating effect of bilateral tapping. The tappers pulse back and forth, this simple action helps your nervous system begin to calm down. No pills required.
Based on my experience in helping individuals, families, and communities heal from traumatic events, I now recommend Bi-Tapp as the initial intervention. Once nervous systems are regulated and people feel calmer, they can engage in other learned support strategies. Another benefit of the tappers is you can use them whenever you need to and as often as you need to.
- Van Der Kolk, B. (2014) The Body Keeps the Score. New York, New York. Penguin Group.
- Taylor, J. Bolte (2021) Whole Brain Living. Hayhouse, Inc. United States.
- De Voogd, L. et al. (2018) Eye-Movement Intervention Enhances Extinction via Amygdala Deactivation. The Journal of Neuroscience, October 3, 2018.
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