What is EMDR Therapy?
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
& Board Certified Diplomate
I specialize in a treatment approach called EMDR therapy. In my work as both an individual and a couples counselor, I have found it to be an invaluable tool for reasons that will become clear in the sections below. I was in practice for 15 years prior to being trained in EMDR. Since incorporating it into my practice. I have watched clients heal more fully and more deeply than in all my years prior. It is a treatment approach well worth reading about.
EMDR is an acronym for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a comprehensive, phased treatment approach developed in 1989 by psychologist Francine Shapiro, that has been extensively researched and proven to be effective for the treatment of trauma-based disorders. The most commonly known trauma disorder is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This disorder sometimes develops after a person experiences an event (or multiple events) so disturbing to them that they are unable to process what happened in a way that allows them to heal from it.
The kinds of traumatic experiences (Big T traumas) that can sometimes lead to PTSD are events that include, but are not limited to:
• Sexual assault
• Physical assault (experiencing or witnessing)
• Childhood or adult abuse (physical, emotional or sexual)
• Extreme illness or the sudden death of a loved one
• Auto accidents
• Dog bites
• Natural Disasters
EMDR therapy is a formal set of protocols and procedures used to “desensitize and reprocess” memories that have been encoded in the brain and body as if “frozen in time” as a result of traumatic experiences. An EMDR therapist must go through extensive training beyond their clinical license to practice this method of psychotherapy. Make sure that your therapist has the proper certification and training in EMDR therapy before you accept treatment of this kind.
HALLMARK SYMPTOMS OF TRAUMA OR PTSD
HALLMARK SYMPTOMS OF TRAUMA OR PTSD
Not everyone experiences the full spectrum of symptoms listed below, but if you are experiencing several (or all) of these, you may be experiencing a “trauma-based” disorder:
• Depression and anxiety
• Sleep disturbance (insomnia, nightmares)
• Intrusive thoughts (flashbacks to the scenes)
• Heightened levels of vigilance – being ‘on guard’ all the time
• Physical arousal such as being jumpy, irritable, and/or aggressive
• Substance abuse (the world’s most common ‘self-medication’ for trauma)
• Numbing (can’t feel emotions) or emotional outbursts (feel too much)
There are also not-so-obvious examples of experiences that we refer to as “small t traumas” or adverse childhood experiences. They are the more common life experiences, including, but not limited to: divorce, bullying, teasing, shaming, humiliation, or constant criticism. Experiences likes these usually accumulate over time from childhood. These are collectively quite traumatizing for young children and adolescents who are unable to handle the overwhelming emotions that accompany these Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs), especially without adult support. In the news we have seen school shootings that were linked to incessant bullying, teasing, and marginalization. We’ve seen teenagers commit suicide as a result of public shaming and humiliation shared on all forms of social media from both personal and anonymous sources. These are real-life tragedies, at least in part, a result of trauma inflicted on children. For more information on the ACE Study, see the Addictions page.
When we are young we tend to take responsibility for everything, often leading us to believe negative things about ourselves that are not really true. We know it intellectually, but the beliefs feel true at a gut level. Common examples of these beliefs are: “I’m not good enough,” “I’m powerless” or “I have no choices.” Extraordinarily disturbing experiences can often have devastating consequences that can last a lifetime if not understood and treated in a timely way.
Over the last 30+ years, EMDR has been found to be effective with a much broader range of disorders beyond just PTSD. They commonly share underlying trauma as a contributing factor. More research is being conducted every year with these other symptom presentations. With the addition and integration of Internal Family Systems procedures, the healing is even safer and more comprehensive with these challenging symptoms.
EXAMPLES OF PROBLEMS HELPED WITH EMDR
• Substance Abuse (and other addictions)
• Depression and Anxiety
• Panic Attacks
• Traumatic Grief
• Low Self Esteem
• Phantom Limb Pain
• Performance Anxiety
• Performance Enhancement (athletes, writers, actors, etc.)