The lasting effects of trauma can be difficult to overcome. Many people try to bury the hurts of the past, thinking problems will go away if they ignore them. Unfortunately, that is rarely true, especially when it comes to major trauma.

Some trauma survivors try to address their past through traditional talk-based counseling, but this is not always a successful treatment for everyone. Enter Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, the promising trauma treatment alternative, also known by its acronym EMDR. Here is what you need to know about EMDR and how it can help you.

What is EMDR?

Researchers aren’t entirely clear yet about how EMDR works, although new studies are constantly discovering more about the process. EMDR is thought to work in a similar manner to the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. During this stage, the brain and body repair themselves. In an EMDR session, the patient revisits a traumatic experience from their past and finds a new way to process it.

The treatment is guided by a trained psychotherapist. He or she directs the patient in a series of eye movements while recalling past experiences. The series of eye movements is designed to encourage patients to react with less intensity to traumatic events. During the past 30 years of research, it has been determined that bilateral stimulation is what is working, so if someone is not comfortable with eye movements for whatever reason, auditory and/or tactile methods of applying bilateral stimulation may be employed.

Who Can Be Helped by EMDR?

EMDR is a promising treatment option that can help virtually anyone affected by painful past experiences in an ongoing way. According to the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs, about 7.8 percent of all Americans will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives. Survivors of PTSD are ideal candidates for this type of treatment.

Veterans, of course, are not the only ones who can suffer from the long-term effects of trauma. It is estimated that twice as many women as men deal with PTSD, due to trauma induced by partner abuse, rape or molestation. Refugees, survivors of natural disasters and accident survivors also benefit from the effective and short-term way EMDR addresses traumatic experiences. Adults who were abused or neglected as children are also excellent candidates for this form of therapy.

Advantages of EMDR Compared to Talk Therapy

One of the biggest advantages of EMDR compared to talk therapy is the typical duration of treatment. Talk therapy is generally a slower process. The patient and therapist establish trust and rapport, exploring together the possible causes of trauma. They then may revisit the trauma again and again, relying on exposure to lessen its effects. This may or may not work well for some people. EMDR is designed to be a shorter-term and more direct process, and tends to be much more effective for most people.

Some reports suggest that people who have suffered from a single traumatic event can be free of PTSD reactions in as few as three 90-minute treatment sessions, although no two people respond in the exact same way. While some may respond this way in three sessions, others may need a few more sessions. Generally speaking, EMDR tends to cut down total time spent in therapy by 50 percent. Fewer sessions is easier to fit into most people’s schedules. A shorter course of treatment may also be less expensive, increasing accessibility and the likelihood of successful treatment completion.

Must EMDR Replace My Usual Therapy?

Therapy, in general, is rather adaptable.  The goal is to help you recover. Thus, many therapists employ multiple treatment modalities at the same time.  It is true that some therapists may resist EMDR because it’s newer or they are inadequately trained or they do not understand it.  However, other therapists opt to refer their patients to a trained therapist as an adjunct to their existing therapy.

Does EMDR Help All Types of Problems?

EMDR is unique in that it can effectively help resolve long-term past traumas and retrain your thought processes.  As such, this treatment is helpful for those who have suffered problems like childhood abuse or people who have deeply entrenched negative opinions about themselves. Participants also find EMDR helps manage anything from feeling alone and abandoned due to the absence of a parent to the death of a loved one to the lingering effects of war.

Don’t remain trapped in your circumstances any longer. Explore whether EMDR could be a treatment option that might set you free.

Take the first step…

If you are ready to address your unresolved trauma and want to bring about big change in a short amount of time, I would like to help. Please get in touch with me via voicemail or email so we can discuss how we might work together to change your life for the better as quickly and effectively as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Linda K. Laffey, MFT


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