Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Taming Trauma with EMDR

overcoming trauma with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Taking the Pain Out of Painful Experiences

by Steve B. Reed, L.P.C., L.M.S.W., L.M.F.T. 

Janis has not felt comfortable on a date since suffering a violent rape by an intruder who held her at knifepoint, threatening her life. Driving has been difficult for Sharon ever since her near fatal car wreck.  When Ann's husband touches her, the pleasure response she desires is blocked by intrusive memories of her stepfather molesting her as a child.  Jim's nightmares of Vietnam still haunt him.  After a verbally abusive marriage, Jane's self-esteem is very low. What all of these people share are the post-traumatic effects of severely painful experiences.

One of the main goals of therapy is to help people ease the pain of human suffering. That pain is most vivid in the lives of those who have suffered traumatic psychological experiences. Those experiences can be so devastating that the invisible wounds still cripple their lives years later.  Victims of child abuse, adult abuse survivors, those exposed to the horror of war, violent crimes, and painful accidents often develop intense fear responses to anything that becomes associated with the trauma.  Even people who have experienced early abandonment over the loss of a parent to death or divorce can have their peace of mind impinged upon by fears that seem confusing or unrealistic. Phobic responses, post-traumatic stress symptoms, or a generalized sense of anxiety often remains with them long after the initial experience of pain.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Fortunately, hope now exists for people who have been trauma victims.  Research is showing a revolutionary treatment method to be highly effective in treating even the most resistant post-traumatic stress disorders as well as milder forms of psychological pain.  It is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).  This approach is quickly gaining broad acceptance at one of the leading treatments for traumatic events.

My first glimpse of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) was in an unforgettable video of a live therapy session that I saw during my clinical training.  As the lights dimmed, I saw on the monitor an older woman relating her story of the recent traumatic events in her life.  Diagnosed with cancer, her physician told her that she had only six months to live and that she would die a terribly painful death.  Her husband subsequently abandoned her to die alone.  She looked and sounded hopeless, overwhelmed and in such pain that she could die that very day.

Then I saw something amazing.  During her single EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)treatment session, I witnessed a remarkable transformation as she resolved her grief over being abandoned, her fear of dying and came to a decision that she would be OK.  Furthermore, she decided to devote her remaining time on earth to helping other cancer patients.

The follow-up video of her session one week later showed a different woman.  Her makeover was more than make-up. She seemed unaffected by the events that just a few days before were as traumatic as she could imagine.  The report was that she not only went on to live twice as long as her physician gave her but also touched many lives in a positive way. Because of her transformation, her husband returned to her side.  In the end, she died with dignity and very little pain.  It is so moving to realize that because of one therapy session, a woman who had lived a long life was given the gift of living a meaningful life.

What makes EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) so effective is that the process may be stimulating an increase in communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.  The eye movement patterns utilized during treatment are also similar to the patterns that naturally occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is associated with dreaming.  During dreams, the mind is attempting to work through problems.

Brain imaging studies using fMRI scans also show that the area of the brain that encodes traumas can be reached with EMDR.  That part of the brain is called the amygdala.  Located in the deep emotional midbrain or limbic system, this part of the brain serves as the alarm center that regulates the activation of the fight-or-flight reflex.  EMDR seems to be capable of accessing and calming this region of the brain.  This helps to ease the distress associated with high impact or traumatic memories that are stored there.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) treatment begins by having the client focus on two things simultaneously.  Internally, they focus on a problem that they wish to resolve.  Externally, they focus on tracking the therapists' hand as it guides them through a series of eye movements.  Then, they are to be aware of any thoughts, images, emotions or sensations that may spontaneously emerge during the process.  Whatever does come into the clients' awareness becomes the focus during the next pattern of eye movements.

As the process unfolds, it seems to empower the mind to resolve problems or traumatic experiences in remarkable ways.  The client may gain access to information that was previously unavailable.  They may see their traumatic experience from a different perspective. They are able to take strategies that they know from one area of their life and apply them to the problem.  They release emotional blocks and can naturally resolve their feelings about the trauma.  This process allows people to integrate what they know intellectually at a gut-level. This is one of the hardest yet most essential things to accomplish in therapy.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a much easier and less painful process than traditional therapy for resolving trauma.  There is no pounding of pillows or screaming at empty chairs.  The resolution takes place much quicker too.  Many people experience a 20-100% reduction in distress and a 15-100% increase in self-esteem in just a few sessions.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) treatment is like a train ride through the traumatized area of your life.  You look out the window and memories just go by. They are nothing but scenery and you move through them quickly and more comfortably.  Old styles of therapy are like covering the same painful ground on foot while carrying a 50-pound backpack.  People who experience EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) are learning that they can tame traumas.  They are also accomplishing this healing faster and easier than they ever thought possible.

Steve B. Reed, LPC, LMSW, LMFT is one of the first therapists in Dallas to train in EMDR.  He also works with many other leading-edge treatments for anxiety, phobias and panic attacks including the REMAP process and Quick REMAP.  In addition to treating people in his office, Steve also provides phone counseling worldwide.  You can reach Steve at 972-997-9955 or through the contact form.

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