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  • Writer's pictureHeather Keenan, LCSW

How Effective is EMDR for Trauma & PTSD?

Hi! My name is Heather Deecken and I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker located within the beautiful offices of Bayview Therapy.

Today, I am going to be going over what EMDR therapy is and how it can be effective for those struggling with trauma and PTSD.

Before we get into EMDR therapy, I think it is important to discuss what trauma is. Trauma is any event or experience in your life that has had a continued or long-standing impact. These experiences can range from physical, emotional, sexual abuse, serving in the war, history of being bullied, or unresolved grief. These are just a few of many experiences that can be traumatic for a person.

Going through these experiences can pose many challenges for you including nightmares, flashbacks, or feeling like you are reliving the trauma. You may be feeling numb or disconnected from others and even yourself. Disconnected from your emotions, body, or even the reality of what is in front of you. 

When it comes to our brain, it can be physically and chemically altered after going through a traumatic experience.  Since our brain directs how we feel, how we think, and how we behave these impacts can be very overwhelming for a person. 

I want you to think of our brain as a filing cabinet. When we go through normal day to day experiences, our brain is able to take that information and store it away appropriately, or in the right folder. The reason behind this is so that when we need to access that information at a later time, it is easily accessible. 

When we go through something traumatic, our brain goes into fight or flight mode and gets stored with all the heightened emotions, thoughts, and body sensations. In terms of the analogy, the information gets stored and stuck in the wrong folder. Since the information is not properly stored, we can very easily get triggered, resulting in our body and brain remaining in an overwhelmed position and constantly in fight or flight.

In overcoming these symptoms and challenges, EMDR therapy has been found to be effective for those struggling with trauma and PTSD. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This is a treatment technique that facilitates the reprocessing of traumatic memory. While this treatment technique was initially developed for those struggling with PTSD or trauma, it can also benefit those who struggle with anxiety, panic attacks, addiction, and much more.

Unlike other approaches, EMDR therapy focuses on one specific memory at a time. This allows us to desensitize, or decrease the disturbance level of memory, and then reprocess the memory. Reprocessing allows us to adopt healthier and more rational beliefs about memory. It allows us to alter the way the memory is stored in the brain and, as a result, can allow us to put the information in the right folder in the filing cabinet.  

EMDR therapy is facilitated one to two times a week and can range in terms of how many sessions are needed. This will all depend on the trauma history of an individual. There are various phases of EMDR including preparation work, so providing you with different tools and resources you can use to manage any emotions that come up for you during this process. We then move through the assessment phase where we will develop a treatment plan based on your personal needs and trauma history. From there, we begin the desensitization and reprocessing phase.

Following an EMDR session, the events are still remembered. However, the painful thoughts, emotions, and body sensations that were associated with that memory are no longer re-lived.  Through this process, you will be able to shift your negative beliefs about the trauma into more positive or rational thoughts. For example, if your initial negative thought was, “This is my fault”, we are able to shift this belief into a more rational one, such as “I didn’t deserve this” . These shifts in belief have been found effective in decreasing PTSD symptoms for an individual.

If you are in south Florida and have experienced any of these symptoms, please reach out to me at 954-391-5305 and we can discuss if EMDR therapy is the right fit for you.

Most importantly, please remember you are not alone. Things can and will get better for you.


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