Psychological Trauma, EMDR at Amaranth Counselling

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed by Francine Shapiro in 1989 and is an evidence based treatment for clients who have experienced psychological trauma such as being involved in an accident, or suffering an assault or rape. It is also particularly effective in the treatment of Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In order to understand how EMDR works it is important to understand the nature of psychological trauma.

What is Trauma?

If we first consider a physical trauma; this is a wound or injury and when sustained the body will immediately begin a healing process that leads to the ultimate restoration of health, we may be left with a scar or a weakness in the area of injury but we get about lives quite well.

A psychological trauma is wound or injury to the mind. When we experience this type of trauma the brain also goes into the process of healing, we process the trauma in our heads by talking about it, dreaming about it and over time it gradually works its way into our brains as a probably very unpleasant memory that we don’t often think about but we live with it.

The psychological trauma may come in different forms; we may experience a single one-off trauma like an assault, a rape or a car accident. Even hearing, seeing or being a bystander at a traumatic event might be sufficient to traumatize us. Trauma can also be cumulative in that we experience the many psychological traumas over time, this would include domestic violence, childhood abuse and severe bullying.

Some people process trauma without psychological intervention but some find the event is not properly processed. It’s a bit like a stuck CD, the song can’t progress and the same bit gets repeated over and over. When the trauma isn’t properly processed, it manifests as nightmares, flashbacks where we may experience the trauma as though it were currently happening.

We will also avoid that experience by isolating ourselves or withdrawing from the world and we may experience anxiety such as panic attacks and become hyper-vigilant, (constantly in a state of alert and looking for dangers where none really exist). If you are experiencing these symptoms then you may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); it is intrusive, debilitating and extremely distressing; EMDR is now a recognised recommended treatment for the condition.

So how does EMDR work?

Well I mentioned the fact that when we have PTSD it may feel like the traumatic event is stuck at the forefront of our mind and no matter how hard we try, we cannot integrate it into our experience because if we do, we experience the fear and the panic. The body’s alarm system is activated and when that happens we are unable to process memories and our capacity to think clearly is impaired.

So when doing EMDR the therapist stimulates the thinking part of the brain by moving their hands in front of the client and getting them to follow the movements with their eyes; at the same time the therapist invites them to remember the traumatic event.

It is called dual stimulation and the brain processes the memory with the thinking part engaged while remembering the trauma. 
As this happens, the memory and experience become less intense (desensitisation) and distress levels will drop until the memory is no longer distressing.

The memory is then reprocessed in a more positive way by allowing the client to hold the memory while thinking a positive affirmation. The person has put the memory in its proper place in the brain and it should no longer cause distress. It probably sounds very strange but in working with clients I have seen its effectiveness and clients have said they find it very strange but they can't understand why the incident doesn't bother them anymore.

There is strong research confirming its efficacy and with a single event trauma (e.g. an accident or an assault) it is very effective. It can also be used to treat phobias and anxiety and long term complex trauma such as childhood abuse; however in the latter situation it may take longer.

If you have experienced a traumatic event and are suffering as a result get in touch with me at Amaranth Counselling.
Further Details
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