EMDR Therapy: Five Ways You May Be Surprised by Its Benefits
A friend asked me one day about some challenges she was going through. She told me how difficult it was for her to concentrate and how easily she became startled. She mentioned her sleep disturbances and how easy it was for her to get angry. As we talked more, I discovered that she had traumatic experiences in the past. I asked her if she thought she might have post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
“How can this be,” she said. “I thought PTSD was for war veterans.” I explained that PTSD goes well beyond traumas like combat exposure and sexual trauma to traumas like the experience of an emotionally abusive family member or the experience of a series of painful relationship breakups. And I explained that her poor concentration, anger outbursts and sleep disturbances were probably the result of traumatic events from her past being re-experienced in present day like flashbacks. This was a real eye-opener for her.
I told her that was the bad news. But the good news was that there is way out for those living with the demons of trauma. She no longer needed to feel stuck in the past by painful experiences that kept her from the happiness and fulfillment of the present. There can be a way out for her, and that way is EMDR therapy.
EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing has been used by millions to treat PTSD. In a nutshell, EMDR (the most researched trauma treatment approach) helps unlock memories of disturbing events so that they no longer color our perceptions of current experiences. And there are five areas where EMDR can help:
Relationship trauma: Painful events from the past may be playing out in current intimate relationships. One partner is reminded of old traumas by the other partner’s facial expressions, sounds or smells leading to confusion, anger, withdrawal, or feelings of powerlessness. EMDR can help process out these memories and help a traumatized partner separate the past from the present. The result can be a relationship with less threat and separation and more safety and emotional connection.
Addiction: EMDR can address traumatic events underlying psychological addiction. Some addicts began using in an effort to repress disturbing memories. Although it is not a perfect cure, using EMDR to reduce negative emotions surrounding a trauma can be a vital part of an overall treatment plan.
Physical pain: Often buried in physical pain is a negative belief about oneself (“I am damaged” or “I don’t deserve pleasure”). And this belief can be tied to a childhood memory like the experience of a critical and abusive mother. It is possible for EMDR to help break the connection of the memory to the pain thereby granting physical relief.
Social Anxiety: Memories of early childhood experiences like being humiliated in class or being shunned socially can be reprocessed using EMDR. These traumatic memories can very well be impeding one from performing well socially in present day or creating undue anxiety with public speaking.
Grief and Loss: For some, the death of a loved one is a trauma. The memory of getting the phone call or witnessing a lifeless body can feel overwhelming. And the result can be prolonged and acute grief whereby a person is unable to function adequately or move forward over time. An EMDR therapist can target disturbing memories of the deceased for reprocessing and help the mourner move toward an integrated experience of the loss (turning the page to a new a chapter and not forgetting).
More information on EMDR (how it works and what an EMDR session is like) is available here.