EMDR for Trauma & PTSD
The term "trauma" refers to severe psychological or emotional distress to a traumatic event in an individual's life that persists for months to decades after the event occurred. Examples of traumatic experiences can include being present during a natural disaster such as a flood or hurricane, experiencing physical or sexual assault, or witnessing a violent act against another person. Less obvious events may also be considered traumatic such as having an absent parent as a child, losing a job, or losing a friend group. The effects of traumatic experiences on certain individuals can last for years and may lead to symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Individuals with anxiety and PTSD often experience negative emotions and may become triggered by distressing memories that remind them of the traumatic event. EMDR is a form of therapy designed to help reduce or completely eliminate symptoms of emotional distress caused by traumatic memories.
Is EMDR an Effective Treatment for Trauma and PTSD?
While the overall effectiveness of therapy can vary from person to person, research has shown that EMDR treatments can greatly improve symptoms of trauma and PTSD in single-trauma victims, multiple-trauma victims, and even individuals with complex PTSD. EMDR is one of the top evidence-based approaches in the world for treating trauma.
How Is EMDR Therapy Used to Help Treat Trauma and PTSD?
At EMDR and Counseling Center, we approach EMDR therapy in two phases. First, we identify the source of the client's symptoms and then work to reduce the intensity of their negative emotions and PTSD symptoms using EMDR. Once the negative event is fully processed through, the negative reactions and emotions to the event should no longer experienced by the client. Second, we utilize EMDR techniques to install a positive belief about the client’s ability to move past their trauma which provides reinforcement to the emotional center of the brain, solidifying the treatment gains.
During an EMDR session, the client is encouraged to focus on the traumatic events or distressing emotions that contribute to their PTSD symptoms. As the client brings up the traumatic memories or emotions, they simultaneously watch a ball going back and forth on a tablet to enable EMDR processing, mimicking Rapid Eye-Movement (REM) sleep. While specific results can vary depending on the extent of the client's trauma or processing speed, the client's eye movements paired with bringing up traumatic memories, allows the brain to fully process events that it has previously been stuck on.
As the client faces the unsettling memories head-on, EMDR helps move them out of the past and into the present. The theory behind EMDR is that as the memories are fully processed, the individual will move out of the “flight, fright, or freeze” response to their trauma. Over time, EMDR therapy can help prevent the individual from becoming anxious or distressed when they're reminded of their past traumas.
For example, if an individual is struggling with distressing memories following a physical assault, the initial memory may trigger feelings of fear, hopelessness, and anxiety. During an EMDR session, our therapist would first target the negative emotions from the experience and help the client process them with EMDR until the event is no longer triggering and the negative emotions associated with it are either drastically reduced or completely eliminated. The therapist would then help the client identify a positive belief such as, "I'm a survivor" or "I am strong," which would be reinforced with EMDR until it feels completely true. Once EMDR is complete, the client should no longer be impacted in a negative way by their past experiences.