Everything You Need to Know About EMDR Therapy and Trauma

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Millions of women worldwide are dealing with trauma in their lives, and thousands of those women are right here in Utah. Living with trauma can feel like a full-time job, making it challenging to build relationships, draining your energy and focus, and even hampering your ability to lead a happy life. But it’s possible to manage your trauma, heal, and move forward even while suffering from the lasting impacts of past events. Many women have turned this corner. And with exciting new therapy options, like EMDR, more and more women are moving past their trauma in a way they never imagined was possible. Here is a guide to everything you need to know about EMDR therapy and how it can help you heal and move forward from your trauma. 

What is EMDR Therapy?

At this point, you may be wondering what exactly is EMDR therapy? EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is a new therapeutic technique that psychotherapists have begun using to help patients that suffer from all sorts of psychological distress. EMDR is a World Health Organization and American Psychiatric Association-approved treatment that was developed in the 1980s and has been used ever since. EMDR was originally used only for treating people with traumatic memories but is now used for disorders including phobias, PTSD, chronic pain, and more.

How the Brain Responds to Trauma

Many people don’t realize that trauma changes how the brain functions. This means that trauma victims are not just facing an emotional struggle but fundamental, physical changes to the brain and how it responds to life’s ups and downs. Traumatic events are those that threaten your sense of survival and safety, leading your body to activate a strong stress response. These stress responses involve your brain stem, especially the amygdala, which releases a massive amount of adrenaline into your body, causing your muscles to tighten and your heart to pound. 

These stress responses then become physically memorized by your body and can activate when they are not necessary. For some trauma victims, these fear responses activate so often that they can never find peace. Stimuli that might activate this unnecessary fear response include things like fireworks, loud noises, flashes, or even certain smells or tastes. These responses are initiated in the brain stem, which is beyond the control of the thinking brain, leaving these stress responses unmanageable through self-talk or rational thinking.

Benefits of EMDR Therapy

EMDR is a safe and effective therapy option that offers massive benefits to trauma survivors. EMDR is often used to treat trauma as well as its accompanying symptoms like stress, anger, and self-harm. EMDR can help you manage your trauma and overcome the experiences that have paralyzed you with fear or anxiety. Everyone deserves to live a life free of these unnecessary burdens.

Does EMDR Therapy Work?

According to research conducted since the invention of EMDR in the 1980’s, EMDR is beneficial to trauma survivors who experience stress, anxiety, and other trauma-related symptoms. Not only is EMDR effective at alleviating symptoms in the short-term, but studies seem to indicate that EMDR has long-term benefits for trauma survivors as well. In one study, 90% of trauma survivors showed no PTSD symptoms after only three sessions of EMDR therapy. But even beyond trauma and PTSD, EMDR has also been an effective treatment option for other mental disorders like hallucinations, delusions, anxiety, depression, and self-esteem issues. One study showed that people who underwent EMDR therapy for depression were less likely to suffer from relapses and other related problems in the year following EMDR treatment.

How EMDR Therapy Works

EMDR therapy is based on the idea that traumatic events make physical changes to the brain, which causes anxiety and intrusive thoughts for trauma survivors. There are eight phases to EMDR therapy. 

First, the client shares their history to inform a treatment plan. During this phase, the therapist works with the trauma survivor to understand their specific symptoms and the patient’s tolerance for exposure to distressing memories. 

Phase two is preparation, where the therapist and patient build a relationship and prepare for diving into these traumatic memories. 

Step three is assessment, where the therapist focuses on the memories that the patient needs to address. The therapist and patient will then associate an image to each memory, understand the associated feelings, and identify positive thoughts to replace the negative ones. 

Phase four is desensitization, which reduces the patient’s reactions to the traumatic memories. This phase is accomplished by directing the eye movement of the patient when thinking about the traumatic event. 

Phase five is installation, which involves associating the positive thoughts from phase three to the traumatic memories. 

Phase six is a body scan used to identify the physical sensations that the patient is experiencing. 

Phase seven is closure, where at the end of each session, the therapist helps to stabilize the patient with the coping techniques learned in phase 2. 

The final phase is reevaluation, where the patient and client discuss the process and determine how to move forward from session to session.

Is EMDR a Quick Fix?

While some patients find relief after only a few sessions, patients should always expect any true therapeutic healing to require a commitment of time and effort. The eight phases of EMDR therapy are very intense, and the early phases can take some clients a very long time. In these cases, the work of desensitization and installation are delayed. In short, EMDR is a comprehensive therapy technique and not a quick fix. Remember, there are no quick fixes when it comes to true, emotional healing.

Is EMDR Therapy Right for Me?

If you have ever experienced trauma and struggle with traumatic thoughts and memories, PTSD, or other trauma-related symptoms, EMDR may be right for you. EMDR has proven effective for treating PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks, grief, dissociative discords, pain, social anxiety, addiction, and in helping those who have suffered from sexual and physical abuse. Talk to your doctor to discuss your options. With EMDR, trauma relief and management are possible.

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