EMDR Therapy Helps Trauma Recovery

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a fairly new therapy that helps specifically in the treatment of trauma recovery and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a disorder that often develops after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal – one in which intense physical harm occurred or was threatened. PTSD can also result after someone has witnessed an event that is disturbing, distressing, or dangerous. Sufferers of this disorder have persistent, frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal.

PTSD can be triggered by events such as:

  • Military combat
  • Violent personal assaults
  • Natural or human-caused disasters
  • Car accidents, plane crashes

To understand EMDR therapy, it’s important to first understand how PTSD can impact people. People who have developed this type of disorder often have ‘re-experiencing symptoms’ or exhibit avoidance symptoms, which can include:

  • Flashbacks of the event
  • Nightmares and bad dreams
  • Uncontrollable and frightening thoughts about the event
  • Avoidance of people, activities, or places that remind them of the traumatic experience
  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that makes them think of the event
  • Irritability, aggressive behavior, angry outbursts
  • Feeling guilt, shame, or worry about the event

What is EMDR?

A great way to understand EMDR is to think through the body’s normal healing process. When you cut yourself, your body works on its own to heal the injury. If the wound is irritated by a foreign object, the abrasion festers and the body is unable to close the wound until the object is removed.

There is evidence to support the theory that the mind works in much the same way. With post traumatic stress disorder, healing cannot happen because the survivor keeps reliving the trauma through their flashbacks and dreams. Those memories are the “foreign objects” that fight the healing process.

Effective EMDR therapy includes some important elements:

  • Processing of the traumatic memory and disturbing feelings
  • Transformation of the painful events on an emotional level
  • Empowerment of the person dealing with PTSD

EMDR therapy also involves using bilateral (both sides of the body) stimulation, such as:

  • Eye movements
  • Physical hand tapping or toe tapping
  • Musical tones

These bilateral stimuli and the guidance of the therapist allow the survivor to tap into the biological mechanisms that come into play during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. It is believed that this allows the individual to naturally process their memories – effectively removing those “foreign objects” so their mind can heal.

What Does EMDR Therapy Include?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy consists of eight therapy phases that are focused around three specific time periods:

  • The past – the event(s) that created or intensified the trauma is identified
  • The present – attention is given to the current situations that are causing distress
  • The future – action is taken to develop the skills and attitudes needed for positive progress

Phase 1: The therapist works with the individual to uncover the incident or trigger event from the survivor’s past that might be relevant for the therapy. This may include not only the traumatic event, but also other incidents from the person’s past. The treatment plan is developed during this stage.

Phase 2: The therapist teaches the individual a variety of stress reduction and imagery techniques that can be used during and between sessions to help them handle their emotional distress.

Phases 3-6: A target memory is chosen and processed using EMDR therapy techniques. In order to start this procedure, the individual must identify the following:

  1. Emotions and physical sensations related to the memory
  2. Visual imagery related to the memory
  3. A negative belief about themselves that is related to their distress
  4. A positive belief they’d like to have

The therapist asks the individual to rate the strength of the negative and positive beliefs they choose. Then, the person is instructed to focus on the imagery, negative thoughts, and body sensations they relate to the target memory while the therapist directs them in performing the bilateral stimulation that is the hallmark of EMDR therapy. These steps are done repetitively in ‘sets’, with the survivor rating the strength of the negative beliefs after each set. Once the person no longer reports distress related to the memory, the therapist will repeat the process while focusing on the positive belief previously identified.

Phase 7: This is the closure phase, where the trauma survivor keeps a log of any lingering negative thoughts or emotions that come up throughout the week. By reviewing the person’s journal of their negative emotions or thoughts, the therapist gains information to help the individual continue to work through their pain while reminding them of self-calming techniques learned during therapy.

Phase 8: In this final phase, the therapist and patient examine the progress made during previous sessions.

How to Get Help

One of the benefits of EMDR is that it has been shown to help trauma survivors with post traumatic stress disorder heal faster than through traditional therapy. Look at these amazing results:

  • One study revealed 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer had PTSD after only three 90-minute sessions
  • Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims were no longer diagnosed with PTSD after six 50-minute sessions
  • A third study showed that 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions

This means that relief from your pain is not only possible but it can be obtained in a relatively short amount of time. If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, seeking professional help can be the most direct path to reclaiming your life.

Learn More

For more information about EMDR and how EMDR therapy can help you or a loved one overcome trauma and PTSD, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us at 561-496-1094.

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