Traumatic memories can have a devastating impact on the mind. Certain events make indelible impressions that can be vividly recalled far into the future. Sights, sounds and feelings come back in great detail causing a person to essentially relive the traumatic experience. This can seriously disrupt one’s ability to function normally. The recalled trauma distorts the way a person sees the world and relates to those around them.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an evidence-based treatment modality used to treat these responses. This therapy allows patients to reprocess trauma allowing them to function normally again in spite of a past traumatic event.
All of us will experience a traumatic event at some point in our lives. After it occurs we will recall distressing thoughts and feelings that were produced by the experience. For most people, the distress fades within about three months. But in some cases, such as those involving post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fear, anxiety and depression may persist indefinitely.
How Does EMDR Work?
When we go through a trauma, memories of the experience can remain trapped in our brains. We are unable to process the emotions and physical sensations generated by the event. These can be reactivated by subsequent triggers causing us to again experience the same painful emotions, such as extreme anxiety or rage. EMDR therapy trains the patient to reprocess the original event freeing him from the ongoing distress it’s causing.
The goal is to change the network of connections in that part of the brain that stores memories. Doing this allows the brain to process the past event in a more effective way. As a result, the memory no longer triggers the original negative response.
To change the neural network focuses on eye movements. Eye movements are connected to how our brains process a given memory. By changing these eye movements the patient begins to process the recollection more effectively.
The therapist will ask the patient to recall a past traumatic event. While doing this, the therapist will hold up a finger near the patient’s face. He instructs the patient to follow the finger as he moves it back and forth, forward and backwards. The eye movements generated while the patient recalls the trauma work to rewire the brain’s circuitry. This new neural network allows the brain to process the memory in a healthier way. As a result the patient will feel less and less distress when he again recalls the event. Patients are still able to recall the event, but it no longer generates the same debilitating thoughts and feeing.
“People describe that the memories become less vivid and more distant, that they seem further in the past and harder to focus on,” says Chris Lee, a psychologist and EMDR practitioner at Murdoch University in Australia.
EMDR sessions typically last from 60 to 90 minutes. A typical course of treatment may run from 5 to 15 weeks although patients may experience relief even sooner. According to Dr. Francine Shapiro research shows that 84 to 100 percent of single trauma victims do not experience post-traumatic stress after three 90-minute therapy sessions using EMDR.
Who Can Be Helped By EMDR?
“The most typical candidate [for EMDR] is an individual who has suffered a significant trauma in his or her life that continues to intrude on the present and negatively impacts their functioning in some way,” according to Ted W. Raddell, PhD, counseling psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and Beachwood Family Health and Surgery Center in Ohio.
EMDR can also be used to treat:
- Panic attacks
- Complicated grief
- Dissociative disorders
- Disturbing memories
- Pain disorders
- Performance anxiety
- Stress reduction
- Sexual and/or physical abuse
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
EMDR may have additional applications such as for the treatment of binge eating. According to clinical psychologist Seema Hingorrany “EMDR Therapy helps people access their disturbing memories and process them to avoid binge episodes.” Another study suggests that EMDR may be particularly helpful to veterans suffering from PTSD.
Treatment at Sovereign Health of Florida
People need not be imprisoned by past traumas. With proper help they can repair the damage done by earlier, painful experiences. EMDR therapy is one of many evidenced-based therapies available to our patients.
All Sovereign Health locations throughout the U.S. follow The Sovereign Way, a philosophy that recognizes each patient’s unique needs and circumstances by providing personalized treatment plans tailored to his or her specific needs. When a patient walks through our doors we design a treatment plan that incorporates those therapies that best suit their needs.
For more information about our treatment programs, please call our 24/7 helpline.