EMDR for Treating Trauma

May 4, 2020
EMDR for Treating Trauma
Andrea Baskin, MS, LMHC

Andrea Baskin is Safe Landing’s Clinical Director. As a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Andrea has over 10 years of experience working with various populations.

EMDR for Treating Trauma

There are many approaches to treating trauma that have been proven to be effective in relieving symptoms.  A traumatic event is considered a negative event that happens to someone and causes distress afterwards. For some people who experience trauma they might meet criteria for PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event, either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. 

As Mayo Clinic describes, most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD. Getting effective treatment after PTSD symptoms develop can be critical to reduce symptoms and improve function.

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms may start within one month of a traumatic event, but sometimes symptoms may not appear until years after the event. These symptoms cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships. They can also interfere with your ability to go about your normal daily tasks.

PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person.

EMDR for Trauma

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Reprocessing and Desensitization Therapy. It is a body-mind integrated therapy that has been proven to be highly effective for those who have experienced trauma. EMDR is founded on the basis that trauma interferes with our brain’s processing. The theoretical basis for EMDR is called Adaptive Information Processing which posits that during trauma our brain processes and stores memories incorrectly. The incorrect storage can lead to past memories feeling very present and related or unrelated stimuli in the present can lead to people's reacting as they did at the time of trauma. Some models of EMDR offer the attachment approach which takes into consideration early attachment patterns and experiences, as well as the built in responses that become patterns. 

In other words people might be displaying unhealthy patterns such as substance abuse, self harm, troubled relationships, anger, isolation, depression, anxiety among others as that response has served a purpose in life before and after the trauma happened. In EMDR the therapist will reprocess those memories with the client in order to take the traumatic memory from being front and center and interfering with everyday life to be stored accurately. In EMDR therapy the therapists will do a preparation phase where you will answer questions and first find the maladaptive pattern that was once useful but might be getting in the way of living your best life. After the preparation phase your therapist will direct lateral eye movements which are the most commonly used external stimulus but a variety of other stimuli including hand-tapping and audio stimulation are often used (Shapiro, 1991). Shapiro (1995, 2001) hypothesizes that EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing of the traumatic memory network, so that information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information. 

According to the EMDR institute some of the studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder 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 no longer were diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions. In another study, 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions. There has been so much research on EMDR therapy that it is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense.

If you have experienced a traumatic event and continue to experience any symptoms of PTSD or have questions if you meet criteria you can seek help from professionals who can guide you and provide answers. 

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