Treating Trauma with EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) is different than other forms of therapy because it targets a whole different area of the brain. Many trauma therapy approaches deal with the logical part of the brain. While these therapies can indeed be helpful to many trauma survivors, they do not necessarily deal with the part of the brain where maladaptive traumatic memories have been stored.  Even if a person is able to logically know that the trauma is over, one can continue to be assaulted by disturbing images, thoughts, beliefs, emotions and sensory experiences if it has not been reprocessed in the mid-brain. Trauma survivors often report that they continue to experience the trauma “beyond all logic.” EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, has been identified as one of the most helpful approaches to treating PTSD or other trauma disorders, as well as a wide range of other mental health struggles that continue to plague clients “beyond all logic.”   

 The approach was originally developed by Francine Shapiro and is based on the AIP model which was created to explain how unhealed traumatic memories are stored in the brain in a maladaptive and disorganized form, which typically lead to maladaptive responses.  Until these memories are processed and stored in a more adaptive fashion, they will likely continue to cause distress to the person who had experienced the trauma.   

EMDR is an 8-stage approach to reprocessing those memories so that the individual can experience relief and even enhance their level of well-being. The 8 stages include:

  1. Client history: The therapist gathers information regarding the client’s history and past events that might be considered traumatic, how those events are affecting them currently, and future changes the person would like to see happen as a result of therapy. 
  2. Preparation: The therapist helps the client learn to stabilize themselves into calmer states when triggered by teaching the client grounding exercises or other emotion regulation strategies necessary to better manage emotional stimuli in an adaptive way. (The length of this phase can last as short or as long as is necessary for the client to obtain enough mastery of healthy coping resources in session and in their natural environment.) 
  3. Assessment: The therapist sets up a target sequence with the client for reprocessing of traumatic memories.  
  4. Desensitization: The therapist applies Dual Attention Stimuli, which can include visual, auditory, or tactile bilateral movements to stimulate reprocessing memories.
  5. Installation: Once the memory is reprocessed, the therapist helps the person to identify a new positive belief about themselves and reinforces them to increase positive cognitive networks.
  6. Body scan: The therapist checks in with the client to see if there are any more disturbances in the body by having the client engage in a full body scan.  If the body scan is clear, the therapy moves to stage 7. If it is not cleared, more desensitization is applied again.  
  7. Closure: The therapist ensures that any stabilization techniques that are necessary for the client are utilized at the end of reprocessing as well as in between sessions if any disturbances occur.
  8. Reevaluation: The therapist checks in with the client at the next session to be sure that the memory has been fully processed in regards to the past memory, present triggers and any future templates. Reprocessing will continue if any memories have not been fully reprocessed.  

This approach is especially attractive to some trauma survivors, because it is not necessary to relive or discuss every detail of the trauma narrative that they have experienced when utilizing the EMDR approach.  Instead, the therapy focuses more on facing specific thoughts and beliefs, emotions, sensory sensations and images surrounding the trauma.  

Who would make someone a good candidate for EMDR?

  • Any person who suffers from PTSD or has experienced an adverse life event and has continued to experience negative self-talk, emotions, and/or physical sensations associated with that event.  
  • Any person who is motivated to engage in the phase 2 process to begin to consistently use healthy grounding and emotion regulation strategies both in session and outside of session or is already consistently using healthy strategies in their life, before moving onto any further stages.   
  • Any person who is willing to engage difficult thoughts, emotions and sensations in order to start to feel better.  There are people trained to help them through this process.  

What do I do if I would like to engage in EMDR therapy? 

If you or someone you know has experienced traumatic events in their life and continue to struggle, it may be of interest to set up an appointment with an EMDR provider to discuss if this would be a beneficial approach to treating the trauma. Call to schedule at (724) 609-5002.  

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