EMDR Therapy and Somatic Experiencing

About EMDR Therapy and Somatic Experiencing Counseling

EMDR by linda k laffey

What is EMDR?

EMDR therapy is a form of therapy discovered by Francine Shapiro in 1987, which has since developed into an extraordinarily effective method for many clients for whom talk therapy by itself was not enough. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) initially used the pairing of a set protocol (specific questions and the client’s answers) with a series of bi-lateral eye movements, which were led and guided by the therapist. The latest evidence has indicated that other forms of bi-lateral stimulation are equally or more effective for some clients, including auditory and tactile methods.

When and Under What Circumstances is EMDR Treatment Most Effective?

Empirical and clinical evidence indicate that EMDR has been dramatically helpful in dealing with issues involving single-incident traumas (post-traumatic stress disorder), a history of ongoing, pervasive trauma (complex post-traumatic stress disorder), especially for adults who were abused or neglected as children, as well as test anxiety, performance anxiety, chronic pain, and opening up and pushing through areas where a client has felt stuck or blocked. It has also been useful in treating general anxiety and depression way beyond the reach of talk therapy alone. In relationship counseling, EMDR can be used to help each party process the painful memories from his/her past that are being triggered and getting in the way of their present happiness. The treatment of eating disorders often involves the processing of past trauma, abuse or neglect, and EMDR can play a significant role in that process.

EMDR treatment is not for everyone, and it is not a magical cure. It is, however, a very powerful methodology that a highly trained clinician can use to help the appropriate client achieve significant results quickly, and it appears to be effective in 80 to 90 percent of cases. EMDR treatment targets memories of trauma and abuse stored in a part of the brain—the limbic system—which does not respond readily to talk therapy. It can access processing and reasoning within the client that before seemed non-existent, which often results in reduced stress and anxiety. It typically reduces total length of therapy time by approximately 50 percent. Many clients have described their experience as if they had been carrying around 1000 pounds of pain, that this helped them to drop out 800 to 900 pounds of that pain, and opened up a whole new world to them. Each client’s experience is unique, and no two clients will respond in exactly the same way. The EMDR therapist can work as a primary or secondary therapist, so if the client already has a therapist who is not trained in EMDR treatment, it is possible for the two therapists to work collaboratively with the same client.

What is Somatic Experiencing?

Somatic Experiencing (SE) was developed by Dr. Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger. It consists of a holistic approach toward healing traumatic and emotional wounds. It is centered on the research that although wild animals are often threatened, they rarely show signs of lasting trauma as a result. These animals rely on their own inner resources to develop, maintain, and return to a steady sense of being and productivity following a traumatic experience.

There are many situations in life that leave us vulnerable to outside people and circumstances, and often the result can be some form of trauma. Even a necessary medical procedure required to save a person’s life can cause debilitating, life-long physiological and psychological symptoms that can interfere with that person’s ability to function. Car accidents, sports injuries, physical and/or emotional abuse, sexual abuse, military combat, and natural disasters are just a few examples of this kind of trauma.

Somatic Experiencing helps a client track the sensations in their body that are connected to a traumatic experience or memory. In some cases, it can help them to complete a defensive response that they previously did not have a chance to experience, thereby releasing stored up negative energy. The body feels much better after letting go, and therapy can then progress at an enhanced level.

When is the Use of Somatic Experiencing Effective?

When a client comes in suffering and complaining of an emotional problem—grief, sadness, anxiety, etc.—we might start with EMDR treatment, and call that “Top-down therapy.” In this case, the therapy is being guided by what the client is feeling emotionally. When a client comes in complaining of physical symptoms in their body (soma)—tightness in their throat or chest, headaches, etc.—we’d be more likely to begin with Somatic Experiencing or “Bottom-up therapy”, and the therapy process would be guided by what the client is experiencing in their body.

This is a very complex subject to cover in a few paragraphs. This material is provided for informational and educational purposes only. If you are interested in learning more about EMDR treatment or Somatic Experiencing, I would be happy to discuss either with you and answer all of your questions. Click the button below to schedule a meeting with me.

I look forward to speaking with you.

Linda K. Laffey, MFT

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