Trauma – how EMDR helps

bear with trauma

Trauma Counseling and EMDR

I thought this week we would look at trauma counseling by reviewing the book entitled “EMDR: The Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Traumaby Francine Shapiro, and Margot Silk Forrest. This book was originally written in 1997 and updated twice (the last time in 2016). The Introduction to the book addresses the following:

    • Trauma comes in many forms – it is not just PTSD, the dictionary definition of trauma is “any event that has a lasting negative effect”.


    • Trauma can be healed – When the memories of traumatic events are processed the related emotions and body responses are transformed, becoming healthy and adaptive. Sometimes, however, if the negative experiences remain unsolved the system becomes “choked” on trauma and often requires assistance to move smoothly again. This is where EMDR therapy can help.


    • Therapy for the body, therapy for the mind – Most people think that therapy involves only talking about problems. However, one part of EMDR therapy is that you do not have to talk in detail about trauma for it to be digested by your own information processing system. Basically this involves what some have called bottom-up instead of top-down processing. Rather than try and talk through the problem, the processing occurs on a physiological level and allows new associations, insights, and emotions to emerge. EMDR therapy involves a specific set of procedures to help this “digestive” function in the brain (neurobiologists refer to this a information-processing).


    • Is it effective? – Numerous organizations over the past 10 years have recognized the effectiveness of EMDR. Many are listed but I will just mention 2: a) in 2010 the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Veteran Affairs issued new guidelines putting EMDR into the category of therapies with the highest level of evidence and recommending it for treatment of PTSD, and b) in 2013 the World Health Organization reported that trauma focused CBT and EMDR are the only psychotherapies recommended for children, adolescents and adults with PTSD.


    • How is EMDR therapy different from exposure therapy – “Exposure therapyis a technique in behavior therapy used to treat anxiety disorders. It involves the exposure of the patient to the feared object or context without any danger, in order to overcome their anxiety and/or distress” In contrast EMDR therapy asks clients to concentrate on a disturbing part of the memory and then let their minds move to “whatever comes up” during sets of eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation. The client usually spends only a short time on the disturbing memory itself. While there is a certain amount of distress there is generally a lessening at the end of the first session. A Harvard researcher has proposed that the same neurobiological processes that occur during rapid eye movement (REM) or dream sleep cause this tendency. REM state is known for processing experiences, learning skills, and reducing emotional disturbances.


  • Why the name “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing”A quote from the author I think is the best way to answer this question: “Unfortunately, in 1987 I included the words eye movement in the name of the therapy. However in 1990, after EMDR had already achieved name recognition, I discovered that other forms of stimulation could also achieve success. When blind people came in for treatment and could not move their eyes, we found that hand taps and audio tones would work as well. Many neurobiologists have argued that the taps and audio tones work on the same principle as the eye movement by causing an orienting response in the brain that fosters processing”.

The rest of the book (12 chapters) expands on these concepts with many examples of clients that have benefited from this methodology. If you would like to read more about the Centers use of EMDR please click on the link. You may also click to read more about this treatment from the EMDR Institute.

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