March 19, 2019

What is EMDR Trauma Therapy?

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Medicially Reviewed By:
Dr. Priya Chaudhri
credentials here

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that can help individuals overcome the effects of a trauma or other distressing life experiences. When the impact of a traumatic event blocks emotional healing, EMDR can help remove that block so that healing can occur. EMDR has been particularly useful in treating individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by processing the emotions around the event, and then methodically decreasing the potency of the disturbing event.

What is Trauma Disorder?

Trauma disorder occurs after someone has experienced or witnessed a highly traumatic event, and then struggles to overcome the resulting emotional impairment caused by the incident. When the resulting symptoms do not resolve after one month, this is deemed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A trauma is an event that causes intense feelings of fear, or feeling that one’s life is threatened, often accompanied by a sense of lack of control. Examples of traumas include:

  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Serious auto accident
  • Natural disaster
  • Terrorist attack
  • Combat or war
  • Sudden death of loved one

Much of the residual suffering is related to feelings of being shocked by the event, therefore mentally unprepared. Some may suppress the feelings related to the trauma, preferring to be in denial, while others may exhibit symptoms outwardly, either way they lead to functional impairment.

Symptoms following a traumatic event include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Invasive, distressing memories
  • Blaming self or others
  • Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
  • Emotionally numb, detached
  • Physical reaction to memories of event, such as sweating, pounding heart
  • Over-reactive, easily startled
  • Aggression
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling isolated
  • Avoiding situations or people that may trigger memories of event
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Substance abuse
  • Hyper-awareness

What is EMDR Trauma Therapy?

EMDR is an 8-step program that helps individuals gradually overcome their response to the thought of the trauma. The therapist will review the client history of the trauma or traumas to identify the distressing memories or stress-provoking current situations to target during processing. Therapy may begin with childhood events. There therapist will use a finger or other item to create bilateral stimulation, moving the stimulus back and forth while the patient follows it with their eyes.

Over the course of the EMDR program, the individual will incrementally be exposed to the painful event, discussing it with the therapist while following the stimulus back and forth. By talking about the trauma, using the bilateral stimulation, allows the event to gradually lose power. At the end of the sessions the individual will have transformed their thinking from victimhood to one of empowerment.

How Does EMDR Trauma Therapy Work?

EMDR trauma therapy is a type of exposure therapy that works using the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. EMDR can help trauma victims shift their thought patterns towards positive, proactive ones. Over the course of treatment, the therapist will guide the individual through the process of acknowledging the event, along with the negative thoughts and body sensations that emerge. During the later portion of treatment the therapist guides the client to shift their thoughts toward a positive belief about themselves, one that was initially identified at the beginning of the treatment. They will then begin to focus on this positive vision of themselves as the exposure therapy continues, resulting in feeling empowered and transformed.

Residential Treatment for PTSD

Emotional trauma can literally paralyze someone, severely impacting their ability to function and often leading to lives of seclusion and substance abuse. When outpatient interventions are not sufficient for helping someone reclaim their life, a residential program may be the best treatment approach.

Residential treatment offers individuals in distress to take a breather from “real life” and reside in a calm, safe, and supportive environment while working through the issues related to the trauma. PTSD can be deeply ingrained, which takes time to unwind and process. Residential treatment provides an extended treatment period for slowly, methodically overcoming the traumatic event.

Treatment will be designed specifically for each individual person, as no two traumas, or responses to a trauma, are alike. The treatment plan will included a comprehensive mix of relevant exposure therapy, such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy or prolonged exposure, both tailored to help individuals with PTSD. In addition, adjunctive methods, such as EMDR and holistic activities, can augment the effects of the psychotherapy.

Continuing Care for PTSD

Following a residential treatment program for PTSD it is essential that recovery is protected and strengthened with appropriate aftercare efforts. The individual will be in a much stronger place following the intensive residential program, but will need to reinforce the skills learned in treatment to maintain the recovery.

This can be accomplished by continuing to receive weekly outpatient therapy. This can be in the form of individual psychotherapy sessions or in group sessions. In fact, groups that gather to discuss daily challenges are often quite effective sources of support for individuals recovering from PTSD. Led by a therapist, the groups will tackle topics of discussion and share their personal experiences, such as encountering triggers, and how they managed that challenge.

Participating in holistic activities is another protective factor following residential treatment. These activities are highly effective in assisting individuals in managing stress and promoting relaxation. Some of these activities include yoga classes, meditation, mindfulness training, massage therapy, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, and guided imagery programs.

It is possible to overcome the devastating effects of a traumatic event. EMDR, along with psychotherapy and holistic activities can help move one through the pain of the trauma and toward a renewed sense of self-empowerment.

Elevation Behavioral Health Leading Provider of Mental Health Services Los Angeles

Elevation Behavioral Health is a premier residential mental health center that treats individuals with trauma disorder. Our comprehensive approach includes a mix of evidence-based psychotherapies, holistic therapies, and adjunctive therapies such as EMDR. EMDR has been shown to compliment the conventional therapies by helping individuals overcome the effects of trauma in a more expedient manner. For more information about our residential program, please contact Elevation Behavioral Health today at (888) 561-0868.

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