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EMDR: Help for Trauma and Other Extreme Symptoms

Written by: Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC, NCC with Jennifer Lynn Thompson, LPC, NCC, Ray of Hope’s EMDR Therapist

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro as a treatment for symptoms of trauma or exposure to distressing events. Dr. Shapiro noticed that controlled eye movements could reduce the intensity of extreme negative thoughts. EMDR can help survivors of rape, psychological or physical abuse, disasters, accidents, or military combat. Some researchers believe that it can help in the treatment of other conditions as well. Specifically, EMDR helps people deal with the bad memories of upsetting events.

People who have undergone distressing or traumatic events often have trouble processing them. They cannot think about them without being overwhelmed by crippling fear and horror, so they store them in a part of the memory that is rarely visited. When a sight or a sound evokes the memory, it produces the flood of overwhelming memories called flashback. Flashback is like ‘being there’, reliving the trauma experience again. Flashback is a waking nightmare.

Sandrine L. (*not her real name) was sexually abused by her stepfather from the age of four until the age of 14 when she ran away from home and joined the Hari Krishna. She has been very successful in making a new life for herself; but there are people, places, and things that she must avoid if she is to feel safe and avoid flashbacks. She cannot go to her home town in Northern Florida where too many things can suddenly transport her to a time of misery and danger. The sight of the house her family lived in fills her with dread. She is jumpy and uncomfortable around her brother who lives here in the Atlanta area. She would like to make peace with her past. Sandrine may be a candidate for EMDR.

Using physical and cognitive cues, EMDR can help Clients process negative memories in a controlled and manageable fashion so that they can be dealt with. I wanted to know more about it, so I sat down with Lynn Thompson to learn more about it. Here are my questions and Lynn’s answers:

Q. Lynn, is EMDR a “stand alone” treatment, or could it be used in conjunction with another therapeutic modality? In other words, if I had a client with trauma issues, could she come to you for EMDR while working on depression with me?

A. Yes, she could. EMDR can be used as a separate, “helping” therapy along with regular therapy with another therapist. It can also be used as part of standard “talk therapy” or as a treatment all by itself.

Q. Is there anything upsetting or frightening about the sessions?

A. No, but I will ask the Client to tell me about the disturbing issue or event so we can identify the focus of the treatment session. The emotion is intense, but I will be there helping the Client direct the focus of his or her eyes in a back and forth pattern while remembering the disturbing material. This helps weaken the impact of the memory. We will do “sets” of eye movements as we weaken the effect of the bad memory and as we then associate the memory with positive thoughts about the Client.

Q. Is the treatment something that you do with the Client – or something you teach them to do for themselves?

A. It is something we do together to weaken the “hold” that a bad memory can have on someone.

Q. Some trauma Clients are fearful about flashback. Would they have to experience the trauma memories in session in order for the treatment to be successful?

A. They will experience the memory in my presence but probably not as a flashback, since we will be stimulating the cognitive brain with the controlled eye movements.

Q. If someone is considering EMDR but they are not sure if it is the right treatment for them, could they get in touch with you to learn more?

A. Yes!!! They can call the office and leave a message, and I will call them and talk to them about it. Also, the first session is devoted to finding out if EMDR is appropriate for the Client. I want to let everyone know that they can also research EMDR online because a lot has been written about it. We also have brochures about the treatment in the waiting room at Ray of Hope. We are so happy to offer this type of therapy for Clients with uncomfortable symptoms.

So, if you have memories that are lessening the quality of your life, it is very possible that this relatively new treatment modality can help. Don’t let the past take over your present. Come and talk to Lynn about it.

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