EMDR & the Release of Stress: A Means of Healing From Trauma

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Eye Movement Desensitization and Processing, or EMDR, is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to help alleviate pain and distress associated with trauma and traumatic memories. It has also been found to be helpful in treating addiction.

Studies have shown that up to 90% of individuals that went through a single trauma and developed PTSD, no longer had PTSD after just three 90-minute EMDR sessions. A study done by Kaiser Permanente found that 100% of individuals that underwent a single trauma and 77% of those that underwent multiple traumas no longer had PTSD after six 50-minute sessions.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma is defined as an intense psychological and emotional response to an event or experience that caused distress and inhibits one from being able to cope properly. Everyone processes trauma differently.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is often associated with a singular traumatic event that is often accompanied by physical harm, including threats. Complex trauma is different, defined by a repetitive pattern of trauma over an extended period of time that causes direct harm to the individual. It occurs within a specific time frame, within a specific relationship, or within a specific setting.

Other therapies that have been found to be helpful in treating trauma include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and talk therapy.

Symptoms Of Trauma

Common symptoms of trauma include:

  • Anger
  • Constant feelings of sadness
  • Flashbacks
  • Nausea, headaches, and other physical symptoms
  • Dramatic, changing emotions that are often unpredictable
  • Altered sense of shame
  • Intense guilt (thinking you are responsible)
  • Isolation
  • Hopelessness

EMDR Therapy Process

The length of treatment differs from individual to individual, depending on the number of traumas they have and at what age the PTSD set in. Typically those with a single-trauma can be treated in less than five hours with success. Clients with multiple traumas typically require more treatments.

EMDR is done in eight phases to help the client heal. Each phase has its own steps to take towards recovery.

Phase One

This phase consists of collecting the client’s history, analyzing their readiness for the therapy, and coming up with a treatment plan. Goals are identified for EMDR processing, such as identifying distressing memories or current situations that are causing emotional distress and pinpointing other related incidents that occurred in the past.

Specific skills and behaviors that the client will need in the future are highlighted. The therapist will also gain insight into situations that will help their client begin to resolve and change their behaviors.

Phase Two

During phase two, the therapist will ensure that the client has a variety of different methods to deal with emotional stress. The client will begin to learn several stress reduction techniques that they can use during and between sessions.

Phases 3-6

Over the course of the next several phases, the identification and processing of the target or targets are done during the therapy procedures. The client will identify these things:

  1. A vivid visual image that is associated with the traumatic memory.
  2. A negative belief they hold about themselves
  3. Any related emotions or feelings and bodily sensations that occur.
  4. Any positive beliefs that they can rate.
  5. The intensity of negative emotions that are occurring.

After the identifications, the client will be instructed to focus on an image, negative thought, or bodily sensation while going through the EMDR processing using sets of bilateral stimulation. This includes eye movements, taps, or tones as instructed or controlled by the therapist.

This part differs from client to client, as no two clients have the same trauma and require different treatments. As this occurs, the client is told to be aware of whatever should spontaneously occur during these sets.

After the sets, the therapist will instruct the client to empty their mind. Once cleared, they are told to take notice of whatever thoughts, images, feelings, memories, or sensations show up in their mind.

The sets can be done multiple times throughout each session to the therapist’s discretion. If the client becomes distressed during the sets, there are techniques that can help get them back on track.

Phase Seven

This phase is all about closure. During this time, the client will be asked to keep a log or journal throughout the week following or leading up to the last session or two. They are instructed to record any related material that occurs throughout the week. This activity helps clients remember the self-calming activities they were taught in phase two.

Phase Eight

The final stage is when the therapist examines the progress the client has made. The client and therapist process past and current events that may cause distress and discuss future events that may require different responses or calming techniques.

How Does EMDR Help Trauma?

EMDR helps trauma survivors heal by recalling the distressing events while their attention is diverted. This helps because when your attention is diverted from painful thoughts while recalling them, it is a less emotionally distressing process.

This causes the client to become exposed to the memories or thoughts of the traumatic event without the intense psychological response that is typically attached to them. Thus, the impact that the thoughts or memories have on the client has lessened.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of psychotherapy that is commonly used to treat patients that have suffered trauma. This can include single traumas or multiple traumas. Over the course of the sessions, a goal is identified and the client recalls the traumatic memories while their attention is diverted by the therapist using different methods and techniques. This helps in healing from trauma because it allows the client to recall the memories with a less intense emotional response. EMDR is used at many treatment centers in the United States, such as NorthStar Transitions in Colorado. The highly educated staff at NorthStar use EMDR to help their clients not only with trauma, but in addiction treatment as well. To learn how EMDR may be helpful to you, contact NorthStar today at (303) 558-6400.


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