You have been suffering in silence for years. You think you are broken; that something is wrong with you. You’re pretty sure that you’ll never be normal again.
This may have been true years ago, but the more we learn about the brain’s ability to adapt and change, the more we learn how to help symptoms of trauma dissipate.
Neuroplasticity is the term coined to describe the brain’s ability to adapt and change. You have been changed by what you’ve experienced, and whereas you will never forget, and likely never be exactly the person you used to be, the brain is able to adapt and change back to pre-trauma functioning.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a therapeutic protocol used in the treatment of mental, physical, and emotional trauma. It has been widely used by various agencies and shown to be effective for both short term and long term recovery. It is currently being used by agencies such as the American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
When EMDR was first identified and researched, it was noted that those suffering from PTSD caused by major traumas such as sexual or physical assault, combat experiences, accidents, terrorist attacks, or the sudden death of a loved one could benefit from EMDR therapy.
As we know, PTSD can result from any life event in which a person believes their or someone else’s life is in danger such as hurtful experiences during childhood, natural disasters, any type of accident, witnessing accidents, disasters or abuses, and abuse anytime throughout life.
Sessions work to alleviate PTSD symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares, angry outbursts, difficulties sleeping and concentrating, and feelings of depression and isolation.
In either case, once trauma has been experienced, there is a disruption in how the brain processes information. For someone who has not experienced a shocking event, brain processing systems digest information about what has been experienced and make appropriate connections. Those reactions to the event that are no longer useful, and emotions or physical sensations, are released. This is why things don’t seem to have as much impact to us over time.
However, when an individual experiences a traumatic event, this processing system is disrupted and the negative memories and emotions, as well as physical sensations and beliefs, are all stored in the brain. These stored traumatic interpretations mingle with current events to color them negatively. In short, the past becomes the present.
The Benefit of EMDR Therapy
NOTHING YOU’VE TRIED THUS FAR HAS WORKED AS MUCH AS YOU’VE HOPED
Maybe you’ve noticed that you have a hard time letting go of some part or all of what you’ve experienced. Maybe you’ve noticed increased startle response. Maybe you’ve done a great deal of work already, but something keeps popping up now and again.
It’s frustrating to say the least. You do everything the therapist suggests and yet you just can’t fully get past the trauma. It just won’t leave you alone.
WOULDN’T IT BE NICE TO FINALLY BE FREE OF THOSE INTRUSIVE MEMORIES AND FEELINGS AND GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP?
I know you want quick results. When we’re suffering from the effects of trauma, it is very debilitating. You have a hard time getting through each day.
All you want is to feel better. All you want is to get your life back. You know this isn’t you and you don’t like it. But you also feel powerless as you’ve done everything you can think of to date.
EMDR is an effective protocol to treat these unprocessed past memories that are poisoning the present. EMDR is able to remove the anxiety, fear, and sadness that cause individuals to avoid or overreact to situations.
EMDR techniques allow individuals to identify early memories that are the root of their problems and change their emotions, thoughts, and even physical sensations surrounding them. These same techniques can also help people achieve desired goals by understanding why they do what they do and how they can manage life and their own behaviors better.
Can EMDR help me?
EMDR is used to treat a variety of issues including:
Panic attacks, complicated grief, dissociative disorders, disturbing memories, phobias, pain disorders, performance anxiety, stress reduction, addictions, sexual and/or physical abuse, and body dysmorphic disorder.
This treatment modality can only be done by a therapist who is trained in EMDR. If you go to someone not trained in EMDR, it can actually do more damage than good. Almost anybody can lend you an ear and help you identify some of your patterns as a therapist does, but what’s the worst that will happen if someone helps you identify patterns who isn’t a therapist?
It isn’t the same with EMDR. EMDR is a specialized technique that if done improperly can cause the brain to make wrong connections and thus make things worse instead of better.
There are different levels of EMDR training. By finding someone trained at least through the basic training through the EMDR-International Association, you know you are getting someone trained properly and thus will see improvements.
Is EMDR More than just Working Through Trauma?
Maybe you are a bit nervous to do EMDR. You’re not ready to open up that can of worms quite yet. Maybe it feels too big.
People talk about EMDR often only as the reprocessing phase. However the reality of EMDR is it is much more than just reprocessing.
EMDR is an eight phase model starting by understanding you and your history. Phase two is preparation which includes helping you feel stabilized and an explanation of EMDR. Phase three is the assessment phase – what are you working on specifically and identification of any negative core beliefs. Phase four is the desensitization phase – this is the phase everyone talks about. Then there are four more stages after this as well to ensure the trauma is processed correctly.
People can stay in phase two for a long time, and some people actually do not move out of phase two. That does not mean there is anything wrong with them. Sometimes trauma can be resolved by helping a person feel calm and safe.
Furthermore, some people have been through so much trauma that they are always at such a heightened state that they just need more time in this stage to feel safe and stable.
Moving too fast through this stage is one of the biggest risk factors for EMDR making trauma symptoms worse instead of better.
It has been proven time and again that before any work can be done to resolve trauma symptoms, a person must not only be physically and emotionally safe, but also feel emotionally and physically safe.
Why is EMDR effective?
This is a difficult question to answer. Nobody knows exactly how EMDR works. It is speculated that it works the same way REM sleep at night does – utilizing both sides of the brain. During REM sleep, muscle activity is supposed to be turned off so our brain can have all of the energy and blood flow it needs to do what it needs for recovery. During EMDR, we want you to utilize self-regulation skills to keep your muscles relaxed also.
Being that nobody knows exactly how EMDR (or REM sleep) work exactly, it is difficult to say why EMDR is so effective.
However, what we do know is that when our body is calm, our brain is working optimally. When our brain is working optimally, we are more able to process events properly.
With trauma reactions, a piece (or more) of the traumatic experience did not process properly and is now stuck. As you relive it – whether through startle response, memories, body sensations, or other symptoms – your brain is pulling that stuck piece back out to try and keep you safe. After you are known to be safe, it will continue to process for a bit trying to make sense of this event and process it properly.
What we know is EMDR is effective in helping reshape the trauma into a correctly processed memory – sometimes without the reprocessing phase as I mentioned above.
EMDR works on the memories, the emotions, the physical sensations, and the core beliefs. When you go through trauma therapy where all you are doing is talking about it, you may also be doing self-regulation to keep your body calm, but it often misses the physical sensations and sometimes the core beliefs (“I’m not safe, I’m not good enough, the world is a completely dangerous place”). Thus trauma is not processed as fully or as quickly.
It’s been a long journey for you already. You’ve been through something very stressful and are now dealing with the brain’s protective factors trying to keep you safe moving forward. It feels awful and I know you are ready to get back to your old self.
It is time for you to get your life back. It is time for you to stop living in the shadows, afraid that someone will find out you are broken or are a fraud.
You want to feel like the strong, capable person you once were and may even still show to the world, even though you don’t feel it inside.
The longer you wait, the more of your life you are missing out on. Isn’t it time to make the call? This is your life and it begins with you.
I am Meg Young, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker practicing in person in Bradenton, FL and online throughout the states of Florida and Connecticut. I am certified in EMDR and have been working with helping professionals dealing with trauma and secondary trauma (cumulative trauma) for several years. It is my passion to get you back to your passion as quickly as possible.
Call me today to schedule your 15 minute consultation or if you know you are ready, let’s schedule your first appointment. I can be reached at 941-462-4807. I look forward to helping you regain yourself and live your best life.