EMDR & Trauma

What is EMDR therapy?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy is a psychotherapy treatment that is effective for resolving emotional difficulties caused by disturbing, difficult or frightening life experiences. When people are traumatized, their emotional resources are overwhelmed and they lose a sense of control over their lives. This can result in a number of symptoms including depression, anxiety, panic disorders, behavior problems, irritability, guilt or anger.

We typically think of trauma in terms of larger events such as accidents, abuse, death or natural disasters. But individuals can be traumatized by common childhood events such as school issues, divorce and family problems, as well.

When a painful experience happens, sometimes the memory of what occurred stays “stuck” in the mind and body. Numerous things may trigger the upsetting memory and the person may cope by avoiding everything associated with the negative experience. Exposure to the traumatic experience is what most experts agree will help a person become “unstuck.” This means the person will work to process the troubling events until they are no longer difficult to face.

The video below is a very helpful introduction to EMDR therapy.

“Courtesy of EMDR International Association

How does EMDR work?

Our brains do have the ability to recover from traumatic memories and events. This process involves communication between the amygdala (the alarm signal for stressful events), the hippocampus (which assists with learning, including memories about safety and danger), and the prefrontal cortex (which analyzes and controls behavior and emotion). Traumatic experiences can be managed and alleviated spontaneously but there are times when processing them with the help of a licensed clinical social worker, licensed mental health counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist or licensed clinical psychologist may be necessary.

Trauma is a biological occurrence that changes the neuropathways in the brain. It interrupts the way that the brain processes information. EMDR therapy helps the brain’s pathways heal and leads to a positive change in one’s thoughts and beliefs about themselves and the world.

EMDR uses alternating right-left tracking eye movements or other forms of Dual Attention Stimulation (DAS), such as alternating hand taps or musical tones delivered to each ear while bringing up an upsetting event or memory that is related to the presenting problem. It is similar to what we understand to naturally happen during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. EMDR facilitates the brain’s attention to an upsetting issue so that it can resume its natural healing process. This is different than other therapies in that it is not necessary to discuss the painful issue in detail or focus on how to change the associated emotions, thoughts or behaviors.

EMDR therapy helps the brain process memories, and allows normal information processing to resume.  So, following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds or feelings when the target experience is brought to mind. Additionally, the fight, flight, or freeze response from the original event is eliminated and you are able to have positive beliefs about yourself, such as “I did my best.”

A typical EMDR therapy session lasts from 60-90 minutes. EMDR is not hypnosis and the client has the ability to stop the session at any time they wish.

What kind of issues can be treated with EMDR?

EMDR therapy helps children and adults – all ages.  Therapists use EMDR with a wide range of challenges:

Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias

Chronic illness and medical issues

Depression and bipolar disorders

Dissociative disorders

Eating disorders

Grief and loss

Pain

Performance anxiety

Personality disorders

PTSD and other trauma and stress related issues

Relationships and marriage

Sexual assault

Sleep disturbance

Substance abuse and addiction

Violence and abuse

What is the actual EMDR therapy session like?

Every person’s journey is unique and sessions are tailored to each client’s need. A typical EMDR session begins by having the client bring to mind the presenting problem, tracking the thoughts, emotions and body sensations that arise while also focusing on eye movements, taps or tones. The client just notices what comes to mind without attempting to control the content or the direction of the thoughts. Sets of bilateral stimulation are alternated with brief pauses and the therapist asking what has come to mind or what is being experienced in the body. These sets are repeated until the individual experiences shifts in their thoughts and emotions so that there is little or no upset about the target issue.

This revolutionary therapy has been studied by clinicians and researchers around the world. These studies have consistently found EMDR to be effective in reducing/eliminating the symptoms of post-traumatic stress for the majority of clients. Additionally, clients often report the improvement of other symptoms not initially identified as associated with their initial concern.

As a certified EMDR therapist, I have received specialized training in order to implement this highly effective mode of therapy. This includes extensive understanding of what trauma is, how individuals typically respond to trauma – both in the moment and over time – and what to include and what to avoid in order to facilitate the most sensitive and effective treatment for clients.

To learn more about the individual 8 phases to EMDR therapy, click here.

Click here to make an appointment.

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