EMDR Helps Process Traumatic Memories

When the body is physically injured, it needs to heal. Psychological wounds also need to heal. Sometimes the impact of a trauma is so great you can’t process it and so you don’t heal. In doing so, how you react to these memories will likely change as psychological healing begins and emotional distress associated with these memories decreases. EMDR can alleviate current symptoms, improve your view of yourself, and facilitate more adaptive coping with present or future triggers.

For more than two decades EMDR has been used to treat PTSD in both military and non-military populations. EMDR targets past experiences, current triggers, and future potential stressors. It is an evidence-based, gold-standard treatment for trauma/PTSD. This means there is substantial evidence supporting its effectiveness as an intervention for people with PTSD or history of trauma. Relative to CPT or PE (other evidence-based, gold-standard trauma/PTSD treatments), EMDR does not require you to discuss your upsetting memories in detail.

And…EMDR is Not Just for Trauma

Research suggests that general life experiences from the past impact present day functioning. Upsetting events from childhood or adolescence – humiliation by a sibling, rejection by a friend, bullying by a peer, or an argument between parents – can be stored in your mind as unprocessed memories. Included in these memories are beliefs about yourself, emotions, and physical sensations as experienced during the original event. A stressor in the present can trigger unprocessed memories and influence how you respond to a challenge at work, in an important relationship, or at school. EMDR can help you understand how your past relates to your present. EMDR can be used to treat anxiety, panic, grief, performance anxiety, and stress reduction. Longstanding concerns related to early interactions with caregivers – for example, a rejecting, critical, or neglectful parent – can also be addressed with EMDR.

What to Expect With EMDR

EMDR consists of a series of weekly one-on-one sessions. The concern bringing you to treatment, life circumstances, and extent of trauma history will determine how many sessions of EMDR are needed. During your initial appointments, you’ll talk in a general way about the memories that trouble you and decide which to target with EMDR. You’ll learn a bit about the theory behind EMDR and why we sometimes continue to have physical and emotional reactions to past experiences. You and your psychologist, therapist, or counselor will discuss how ready you are to focus on your trauma memories. To help you prepare for such work, you’ll learn how to use imagery, relaxation, and other healthy stress reduction techniques during and between sessions.

When you are ready to focus on your target memory, you’ll also identify negative thoughts, feelings, and body sensations associated with this memory. You will then pay attention to a back-and-forth movement while you hold this memory in your mind. The back-and-forth movement will last for 30-60 seconds. You will then be asked to share what you noticed. This process – attending to the back-and-forth movement while holding an upsetting memory in your mind – will be repeated multiple times during a session. With such repetition, the distress associated with the target memory will begin to reduce. Your psychologist, therapist, or counselor will regularly re-assess your symptoms to track your progress in treatment.

This video, produced by the EMDR International Association, can be helpful in better understanding the benefits of participating in EMDR to address trauma/PTSD or other mental health concerns.

Seeing Yourself As a Survivor

You and your psychologist, therapist, or counselor will determine if you need to process more than one target memory. Many people experience relief from their symptoms after just a few sessions of EMDR. They feel empowered as they begin to see past events in a new light. Memories of past upsetting events become less bothersome. When memories of trauma do cross your mind you might find that instead of triggering intense anxiety or guilt you are reminded you are strong enough to have survived the experience.

EMDR is an effective treatment for people with trauma/PTSD as well as other mental health concerns. Its benefits usually last long after you complete treatment. If you are considering working with a psychologist, therapist, or counselor to address PTSD or your trauma history, be sure to ask if your provider is experienced in the delivery of one of the evidence-based, gold-standard treatments for PTSD (PE, CPT, or EMDR).

As an experienced psychologist specializing in the treatment of PTSD and trauma, I have years of experience with all three evidence-based, gold-standard treatments for PTSD – EMDR, PE, and CPT.

If you are struggling with your trauma history and interested in taking back control of your life, I invite you to call or email me to get started working together.