Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other after-effects of emotional and/or physical trauma have traditionally been among the most stubborn problems that people bring to psychotherapy; at least until recently. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) “ clears” troubling emotions and negative thinking linked to trauma and other painful past experiences. Some people have said that EMDR helped them more in one session than other therapies had in years, a statement that is being heard more commonly by patients (and their therapists) with a variety of problems. How then, does EMDR help people with trauma? Researchers are investigating the process using techniques from EEG’s and CAT Scans. One suggestion is that EMDR mimics the action of dream (REM) sleep. Some preliminary research indicates that EMDR increases “communication” between right and left brain hemispheres, with the belief that emotional traumas are actually physically represented in various brain structures and are affected neurochemically, partly via neurotransmitters. As the amount of research on EMDR is increasing rapidly, new information continues to emerge. In the area of PTSD, there has been more EMDR research conducted since its discovery in 1987 than all other treatment modalities combined.
The unique part of an EMDR session is the combination of focusing on a memory and moving one’s eyes in a characteristic manner, not unlike rapid eye movement during REM sleep. As EMDR proceeds, the unpleasant feelings and negative thoughts fade and are replaced with more positive feelings and thoughts. Another unique aspect of an EMDR session is that the nature of the procedure “triggers” the brain to rapidly process information.
Traumas for which EMDR has been used quite effectively include: accidents, earthquakes, and hurricanes, rape, physical and sexual abuse, sudden death of a loved one, severe and/or chronic illness/pain and combat experiences. Regarding the issue of chronic pain, it is believed that any chronic medical condition, or pronounced pain, carries with it a significant emotional trauma to the patient, particularly when there are meaningful life changes associated with the medical condition or pain, i.e., the inability to work, limitations in activities of daily living, loss of employment and/or leisure activities, marital/family stresses and strains, etc.
These changes and their emotional impact are essentially no different from many of the other major traumas noted above. Due to the brain’s memory storage of similar past experiences, any past emotional traumas, both major and minor, will be “linked” to the emotional impact and physical symptoms associated with the presenting chronic medical condition and/or pain.
In addition to trauma, EMDR can be applied to phobias, addictions, anxiety, depression, chronic or excessive anger, psychological abuse or neglect, abandonment experiences, marital betrayals, difficult divorces and performance enhancement. New applications and refinements are constantly evolving. This exciting and effective treatment modality is but one example of remaining in the forefront of treating many emotional and/or physical problems.
Photo Credit: David Castillo Dominici