For those who have dealt with trauma of some kind (car accident, witnessing a tragedy, house fire, military duty, sexual assault or physical assault, and other distressing life experiences), EMDR is a kind of therapy that can be used to help the brain handle the event in a more adaptive way.
After a traumatic event, people often deal with symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Those who are dealing with PTSD may re-live the event in their minds with dreams or flashbacks, which are often caused by a trigger, and they may attempt to avoid situations that remind them of the traumatic event. People who have experienced such an event may feel numb much of the time, or feel very keyed up (on alert, looking for danger).
There is a PTSD assessment form HERE.
If you wonder if you are dealing with PTSD, you may find the inventory a helpful tool to use.
Many have heard of the fight or flight reaction. In our society however, we often freeze when a traumatic event occurs. Because of the “freeze” mechanism, we have no opportunity to run off the adrenaline that gets released into the body.
Studies have shown that animals do not have trauma that gets stored in their brains, like humans do. They most typically run off the stress, and if people are able to do the same, it helps with how our brains will store the effects of the trauma. In many situations however, there are not such choices available.
The stress of the trauma causes the brain to process the trauma differently than a normal memory, and the result is often manifested in the symptoms of PTSD.
EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) is a therapeutic way to help the brain reprocess the trauma in a way that allows the brain to heal. Though eye-movements were originally thought to be necessary for this kind of treatment, research now shows that many different forms of bi-lateral stimulation (tapping, tones from headphones, looking at two alternating lights, etc.) work to accomplish the EMDR.
The “tappers” that I use are like miniature cell phones that vibrate in an alternating fashion at a variable tempo and duration. People can hold them in their hands, or tuck them under their knees while we process through their situation.
Once a client has a therapeutic relationship established with their counselor, and it is determined that person is a good candidate for EMDR, we can set up a 2 hour session to do our first session of EMDR. Because the material that we cover during the EMDR session is most often quite intense, it seems best to not rush the process. Also, we need to leave time for the client to get back to feeling peaceful before the session is finished, to take good care of you.
Before we do EMDR, I work with my client to have a safe place that they can visualize. It can be real or imagined, and the most important part is that they feel completely safe there. My clients start and finish the EMDR session with that safe place in mind and it’s available to the client if things get too intense during the time that they are processing through the memory of what happened to them.
Through the process of this kind of therapy, I will check your level of distress (SUDS). Checking in through the process of the EMDR helps the client be more aware of their present surroundings, and recognize that they are remembering the memory, but not actually there. During the process of the EMDR, clients generally experience more insight and awareness into the memory of the event.
When clients are finished with EMDR, they are able to become more objective about the stressful event. Clients have told me that their bad dreams stopped, that their intrusive thoughts seemed to stop coming to mind, and that they felt so much better after dealing with the things that they’d struggled with so deeply. It is a powerful method of healing and I’m grateful that this method of therapy is available for trauma victims.
Here is a video about EMDR and how it works: View It Here
After doing a session of EMDR, clients should expect that they will be tired and often I hear that they feel emotionally drained. Clients often also state that they are more aware of their senses in the 1-2 days following an EMDR session, and some people have a headache. We believe that the brain is rewiring during the process of EMDR, while your understanding of the event is changing, so this is not surprising.
EMDR for Christians: This therapy method is not hypnosis, or a process of emptying your mind. We often pray before and/or after the session, and when helpful, I will ask my client to picture Jesus there with them in the traumatic event.