Only those that experience the true horrors of a war-zone or an incredibly traumatic event, can truly describe the internal turmoil they experience in trying to process what they have witnessed.

Many of us are familiar with the term of PTSD and how it is triggered by witnessing distresses images, and when a literature professor called Francine Shapiro received a cancer diagnosis, her physical reaction to the shock became the catalyst that lead to development of EMDR Therapy .

EMDR explained

Francine Shapiro is now a respected professor in psychology and since her accidental discovery back in the 1980’s, EMDR has now become an accepted treatment for anyone who needs help with PTSD.

EMDR is a form of psychotherapy and is designed to counteract the effects of what happens when our normal coping mechanisms become completely overwhelmed as a result of a experiencing a traumatic event.

What happens to many of us when we witness a traumatic event is that we are not always able to process the event in our brain and this causes the memory to become latent in our memory networks.

This reaction to witnessing a shocking event or experiencing something extremely traumatic can mean that your brain literally becomes almost stuck in that moment and you subsequently remain in a psychological state where you are almost constantly primed to react to any stimuli that recalls the trauma experienced.

EMDR is an acronym for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is a treatment that is designed to counteract the effects of PTSD through a series of rapid eye movements.

How it works

The fundamental difference between a psychotherapy approach which involves talk therapy to resolve issues and EMDR, is that EMDR is designed to trigger a physical connection between the body and the brain.

Rather than trying to modify the behavior of someone suffering from PTSD through talking about emotions and experiences in order to try and come to terms with what they have experienced, EMDR is aimed at taking a shorter route to recovery by using physical connection to relieve symptoms, allowing the patient to be able to discuss the events more objectively after the mechanism in the brain has been able to disassociate events from emotions.

EMDR is considered to be an effective way of dealing with traumatic events and past results show that it can help some people who suffer a trauma that completely overwhelms them with emotion and anxiety to such an extent that they feel unable to move on.

Different phases

If you have already heard about EMDR, you may well think that the treatment is centered on rapid eye movements in the main, but this is just part of what are eight clearly defined phases of EMDR therapy.

Treatment starts with a qualified therapist completing a though evaluation of a patient’s history, collecting data regarding their trauma such as when it occurred and noting any specific complaints or symptoms that they are acutely aware of.

Preparing for treatment

A treatment plan will be prepared on the basis of the initial consultation and the next phase will involve the therapist providing some immediate coping techniques.

These initial coping techniques will reduce the patient’s individual stress response and also serves a purpose of preparing them for the next phase of treatment, which will be more successful if the person is not over stimulated.

The phases of treatment are specifically designed to slow town down the sympathetic nervous system and allow the patient a much greater chance to address their PTSD by being able to reprocess the traumatic memory.

Response times vary between patients and therefore there is no set timescale for how long preparation will take, but the treatment will not progress to the next phase until the therapist is satisfied that their patient is complying and responding well to the preparation instructions given to them.

Desensitization

The next phase of EMDR will involve a thorough assessment involving visualization techniques and cognition, so that a patient is giving the opportunity to describe a specific image that they are visualizing.

There is no question that this part of the EMDR therapy can be distressing and testing, but successfully completing this phase will allow a patient to move on to the desensitization process.

This is the part of EMDR that those that are familiar with the therapy associate with the discovery made by Francine Shapiro.

The aim is to reprocess the disturbing imagery using rapid lateral eye movement, which is done with the trained assistance of the EMDR therapist and hopefully get to a point in the treatment when you feel that you are in better psychological health and feel able to move on with your life in a positive way.

Dana Terrell LCSW, EAC specializes in EMDR Therapy. She is an EMDRIA Certified EMDR Therapist and an EMDRIA Approved Consultant. Dana is the researcher and developer of the Integrated Bowen and EMDR Protocol (iBE) which helps people gain emotional maturity in their relationships and in themselves.

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