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Processing Past Trauma With EMDR

Deploying a physiologically based therapy that helps the individual see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

Have you ever had the experience when something traumatic has happened, or when you've learned some painful news, that your brain seemed to shut down? It was as if your brain could not absorb what had happened. You felt confused, as if time had stopped and you were frozen to the spot of “before X,” and “after X.”

Are there experiences and memories from your childhood that are too painful to bear, that the very thought of them still, all these years later, makes you physically ill?

Do you find yourself unexpectedly thrown back into an old trauma, almost as if it's currently happening?

The brain has a hard time processing trauma because it's the body's way of protecting itself from unimaginable pain. Humans are pretty good at avoidance and pushing hard-to-deal-with emotions away. The trouble with this “talent” is that weeks, months, even years might pass before we actually process our emotions and physical response to the trauma.

The trauma is still there, though, and it will impact our lives in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Unresolved trauma that isn't fully processed will inevitably rear its ugly head and can cause disastrous harm. I have seen it many times in my career.

One form of therapy that helps people move trauma though both the psyche and body is called Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, or EMDR, and it is an approach we utilize with measurable success at Foundations Counseling.

This type of therapy is made up of elements of highly effective and varied therapies in structured protocols that are designed to maximize treatment effects. EMDR therapy includes psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, experiential, and body-centered therapies. EMDR therapy is a powerful tool, and the results tend to be long-lasting.

EMDR therapy has been proven effective for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) .

Clinicians have reported success using EMDR counseling to treat the following conditions:

· Phobias

· Panic attacks

· Performance anxiety

· Drug and alcohol addiction

· Stress reduction

· Dissociative disorders

· Complicated grief

· Disturbing memories

· Sexual and/or physical abuse

· Anxiety disorders

The strategy behind EMDR is to get clients to completely process these problematic experiences or past traumas. What is different about the “processing” is clients are not spending the majority of their session sitting down and talking through their trauma. Processing by way of EMDR means creating an opportunity – within the confines of a counseling session – where the experiences can be “digested” and appropriately rearranged in the brain. This doesn't NOT mean that the memories of the experience are somehow erased. Rather, it means that what is useful from the experience will be learned and stored alongside other non-traumatic memories. However, the emotions, troubling images, sounds, and feelings, are no longer relived when the event is brought to mind.

The goal of EMDR is to shift the focus toward developing emotions, understanding, and perspectives that will lead to healthy and useful behaviors and interactions.

EMDR therapy has a direct effect on the way the brain functions, enabling the return of normal information processing. After a successful session, the person continues to remember what happened, but finds it less upsetting. Because EMDR is similar to what occurs naturally when dreaming during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, it is thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps the individual see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

Here's what an EMDR session might look like:

The therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem as the focus of the treatment session. The individual calls to mind the disturbing issue or event (what was seen, felt, heard, perceived, etc.) as well as what thoughts and beliefs are held about the event. The EMDR therapist facilitates directional movement of the eyes and utilizes other methods to stimulate both sides of the brain while the client focuses on whatever comes to mind, without making any effort to control direction or content.

The EMDR therapist continues with additional sets of eye movements until the memory becomes less disturbing and begins to be associated with positive thoughts and beliefs; for example, “I did the best I could.” During EMDR therapy, the individual may experience intense emotions, but most people report a great reduction in the level of disturbance by the end of the session.

Typically, at least a few EMDR counseling sessions are needed for the therapist to understand the nature of the problem and to determine whether it is an appropriate treatment. Once the therapist and client agree that EMDR is appropriate, the actual EMDR therapy begins. A typical session lasts about 90 minutes. The number of treatment sessions necessary to achieve success varies according to the type of problem, life circumstances, and the severity of previous trauma. In some cases, a single session is sufficient; however, a typical course of treatment is three to ten sessions, performed weekly. EMDR may be used in combination with traditional counseling, as an adjunctive therapy, or as a stand-alone treatment.

After EMDR therapy, clients generally report that their emotional distress related to the memory has been eliminated, or greatly decreased, and that they have gained important cognitive insights. These emotional and cognitive changes usually result in spontaneous behavioral and personal change, which are further enhanced with standard EMDR procedures.

Do you want to learn more? Call us and arrange a free consultation.