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How EMDR Promotes Healing from Trauma

Confronting the most painful parts of the past can feel scary. Luckily, there is hope and there is help! While it may seem that there are endless possibilities of treatment options, there is one type of therapy that is highly effective in treating trauma: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

Understanding Trauma

EMDR is a therapeutic technique that can help people process unresolved trauma. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes trauma as:

“…a shocking, scary, or dangerous experience that can affect someone emotionally and physically. Experiences like natural disasters (such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods), acts of violence (such as assault, abuse, terrorist attacks, and mass shootings), as well as car crashes and other accidents can all be traumatic.”

Additionally, clinicians now understand that less dangerous forms of trauma exist. Acts like bullying, divorce, or the loss of a loved one constitute trauma if they cause intense emotional distress on a personal level.

Trauma is unbiased and can happen to anyone of any age at any time in their life. NIHM confirms that half of all U.S. adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Even though trauma is something that many people will endure, the good news is not everyone will develop a trauma and stress disorder. For those who do, healing is possible.

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the most common trauma disorders. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs explains,

“PTSD can occur when an experience is inadequately processed and is consequently stored dysfunctionally. The original, often fragmented perceptions of the stressors are not integrated with other memories, but rather held separately in a state-specific form with the original distress, making it difficult to resolve the distress.”

This constant state of distress activates the hippocampus, amygdala, and medial prefrontal cortex parts of the brain. As a result, the brain sends fight-or-flight signals to the body, which can send the nervous system into hyperarousal. This can cause the nervous system to believe the traumatic event is actively occurring, even though it has ended. Ultimately, a person may develop PTSD.

People with PTSD often find themselves constantly feeling unsafe or afraid. They also experience symptoms including flashbacks, sudden mood changes, and nightmares. In delayed-onset PTSD, these symptoms can start more than six months after the traumatic event took place.

The Process of EMDR

EMDR is a therapeutic approach that enables the client to process their unresolved trauma in a safe, healthy manner. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs describes five typical steps in the EMDR process. This includes the following:

#1. Within the first session, the licensed clinician will evaluate the client and discuss their triggers. They will discuss how ready the client is to explore their trauma further.

#2. The clinician will teach the client coping skills that will empower them to withstand any uncomfortable feelings that might come up during the session.

#3. Together, the client and clinician will determine a specific event or memory that needs to be processed.

#4. The clinician will coach the client on how to bring the traumatic event to the forefront of their mind. As the client is recalling the event, the clinician will instruct them to hold a specific memory for approximately 30 seconds. During the 30 seconds, the clinician will use their device (light, tone, vibration, etc.) as the client pays attention to any physical or emotional reactions that occur.

#5. When the 30 seconds have ended, the clinician will ask the client what they noticed during that time. What memories, feelings, associations, etc., were brought to mind as they processed their trauma?

This process may be repeated a few times within the session, depending on the client’s needs. The goal is to repeat this process until a positive belief or feeling is associated with the trauma. Positive association during memory recall helps the brain put the fragmented perceptions in their rightful place. When the fragmented perceptions are addressed and feelings of safety return, the symptoms of PTSD can be reduced.

Variations in EMDR

It’s important to note that EMDR treatment may vary based on the clinician’s training and the client’s specific needs. Though they’ll follow the general guidelines above, no two methods will look exactly the same.

Most clinicians will prefer one method of EMDR over another. Some clinicians give the client something to focus on while they are processing, such as a flashing light or an image to look at. Other clinicians might use beeping tones or a hand-held vibrating device for the client to hold in their hands.

Additionally, a client may need to use EMDR multiple times for a single traumatic event, while other clients might move on to process another event after one session. The approach to this technique will vary based on the patient’s needs.

Sage’s Approach to Treatment

At Sage Recovery, our philosophy is to treat our clients with the utmost care, dignity, and respect. As a result, we offer multiple holistic treatment options, as well as common techniques like EMDR or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). We focus on trauma-informed care in all aspects of treatment. The wide array of treatment methods gives clients the most individualized care possible, allowing them to become the healthiest versions of themselves.

It takes a lot of courage to ask for help with mental illness and addiction. It might feel daunting at first to start treatment, but it’s a necessary part of getting better. At Sage Recovery, we want to make sure you feel confident in your decision. Our clinicians are extensively trained in various therapeutic techniques, ensuring that each client gets the individualized treatment needed to heal. Additionally, we offer specialized treatment programs for adolescents and business professionals. Our various program options meet you where you are. We want you to feel empowered in your healing journey, no matter your circumstances. When you’re to take steps towards recovery, please reach out to us at (512) 306-1394.