There is an exciting type of treatment that is especially useful for helping people process trauma experiences. EMDR works by using bi-lateral tones, tapping, or eye movement while thinking about the trauma. It looks very simple – and it is very different from traditional talk therapy. There are many theories, but no one is quite sure how it works. Here is what it looks like during a session – click here
“Trauma may be defined as experience unable to be processed and integrated.”
-Leading PTSD expert Bessel van der Kolk
The same upsetting event may be experienced differently by people and may be stored in people’s brains in a unique manner. Anything can be traumatizing — even minor events such as being teased on the playground — depending on how the event is experience and internalized.
No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically – or in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, the brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes “frozen in time,” and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way he relates to other people.
EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer re-lives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind; He still remembers what happened, but it is less upsetting. EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
I first heard about this treatment a dozen years ago and actually had a counselor use it with me after a German shepherd attacked me. Even after I experienced EMDR, I was still skeptical because it was such a novel type of therapy. I spent several years in my graduate program reading the trauma literature. I am fascinated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (think combat vets, domestic violence, and childhood abuse victims who all share the similar cluster of symptoms of Hypervigilance, Arousal, and Re-experiencing).
I am now convinced that EMDR is a very helpful tool for many individuals. It has been approved by the APA (American Psychiatric Association) and has been researched for its efficacy in many clinical studies. It has been used successfully on millions of people from all parts of the world, and our United States military has recently spent money training their mental health clinicians to do this type of therapy.
*I have gone through a very intensive and stringent six full days of training in EMDR and I am Level II certified. I am excited to offer this as a potential tool to help you overcome some of the painful negative emotion that may be associated with your trauma.
**This post originally posted 12/09/07