Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and addiction have all been getting a lot of media coverage in recent years. Now, an important tool for treating these serious but common mental health issues is also beginning to get more attention: EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).
Our brains are amazingly complex and have the natural ability to heal from trauma and other stresses. Sometimes, however, events and memories are so distressing that the normal way the different areas of the brain communicate with one another becomes blocked. The fight, flight or freeze response is overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings that keep a person stuck in the moment of the traumatic or disturbing experience.
Unlike humans, animals can literally shake off a trauma. “When animals get scared and the threat passes, they shudder as a way to release the trauma. Humans, however, keep it in their nervous system. Anything similar can connect back to the initial negative experience and create a bigger trauma,” said Maria Droste therapist Patty Podhaisky. “We can be easily triggered by anything similar – a sight, a smell, a sound.”
When those uncomfortable feelings are triggered, the trauma is experienced in their nervous system as if it is happening in that moment. EMDR allows a difficult event to be remembered as something that happened in the past without the associated feelings and emotions. It also works with a future event, when, for example, the anticipation of a stressful family gathering or other confrontation creates anxiety.
EMDR uses bi-lateral brain stimulation (BLS) to process memories in a safe way and restore normal healing. It may include side-to-side eye movements, or alternating sounds or taps, while the client focuses on a particular memory. EMDR doesn’t require talking in detail about the original trauma. It is not hypnosis nor does it erase memories.
“The client is fully conscious and in control at all times,” Patty said. “The memory doesn’t go away, but the ‘bite’ of it does. It is no longer remembered in the nervous system.”
Patty first received EMDR as a client. “I was impressed with how much it calmed my system. I now have bedrock under me and it seems to get stronger over time.” She has used it with clients in her therapy practice since 2015.
How long does EMDR take?
EMDR can work quite effectively in as few as six sessions, all the way to a year or longer, depending on how many traumas a person has in their system. EMDR can be done with children, teens and adults, often resolving traumatic issues sooner for those who are younger.
“They typically have fewer traumas the younger they are,” said Patty. “But even adults can work through simple traumas or use future or present templates to lessen the grip of some crippling anxieties.” Most adults will need to attend at least 10-12 sessions to find some relief. Several sessions in the beginning assist clients in identifying their trauma history and target memories, along with providing some resourcing for alternative methods of coping with current stressors.
EMDR International Association supports therapists in treating people of all ages with EMDR for a range of challenges:
- Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias
- Chronic Illness and medical issues
- Depression and bipolar disorders
- Dissociative disorders
- Eating disorders
- Grief and loss
- Performance anxiety
- Personality disorders
- PTSD and other trauma and stress related issues
- Sexual assault
- Sleep disturbance
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Violence and abuse
If you are dealing with a trauma, are experiencing negative effects of a past trauma, wish to learn more about EMDR, or would simply like to speak to a therapist, contact Maria Droste Access Center at 303-867-4600, or visit our Therapist Group page to view the profiles of the seven therapists who currently practice EMDR.
More information on EMDR is also available at www.EMDRIA.org.
***Thank you to Maria Droste therapist, Patty Podhaisky, MA,LPC for contributions to this blog.***