How EMDR Helps Heal Childhood Trauma
EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It is an approach that has helped many, many people get beyond past distressing memories so they are free to live a full life. It is based on the idea that the mind can recover from emotional pain just as the body can heal from wounds. If you cut your hand, it heals- there is a scab and after a while- it looks as good as new. If there is a painful memory, the brain heals it so that we can go on with our lives. We would be in bad shape if we could not process the day-to-day painful events that sometimes happen to us. However, some memories are singularly traumatic (like a rape, molest, major car accident) and are called big T memories (T for trauma) and other times, there can be a bunch of little t’s such as being a child who could never express him or herself because of family chaos. These memories get stuck in what is called traumatic memory and can keep getting triggered in current life situations. What gets triggered are the images, feelings, sensations and beliefs that were generated by that memory. Sometimes not all of these parts of the memory are stimulated; maybe just a feeling or sensation is stimulated by a current event. Or for example, there could be the belief, “I am insignificant,” that may get triggered if you came from a family where you were never given emotional attention. I have had clients get majorly triggered with this exact belief and had an emotional meltdown because the customer service person took too long. When the reaction is out of proportion with what actually happened, this sometimes is a signal that a past memory has been triggered. Of course there are many other ways people can get triggered.
What the EMDR tends to do is stimulate the stuck, traumatic memory to join up with the healthy adaptive information processing that the brain does with other types of painful experiences. There are 8 parts of EMDR therapy, which I will not go into the detail here. The center of the approach stimulates both sides of the brain as the memory is quickly processed. Both sides of the brain are stimulated in a variety of possible ways including using eye movements as the title of this approach infers. We all use rapid eye movements to heal our psychological issues of the day every night during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. However, the bilateral stimulation can be done in a variety of other ways as well such as using “tappers” that vibrate each hand quickly and alternatively. The memory is then desensitized and even clusters of other painful memories may get desensitized and reprocessed. At this point the person is free of the emotional reactions that were originally caused by the distressing memory.
A certified EMDR therapist such as myself needs to go through a lot of training and supervision and needs to be recommended by other experienced EMDR therapists including one’s supervisors. Some of the studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions. Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer were diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions. In another study, 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions.
If you are curious about how this kind of treatment can help you, please contact me. It is wonderful to have an approach that can end people’s suffering in a relatively quick period of time.
This article was originally published at Todd Creager's website. Reprinted with permission from the author.