Overcoming Trauma and Enhancing Resilience with EMDR Therapy

By Denise O’neil

An emotional trauma is any event that negatively impacts your present life. It may be an event from a long time ago or something that happened recently. The upsetting experience may have occurred once or it may have occurred multiple times. It could have happened to you directly or you may have watched it happen to someone else. Regardless of the nature of the trauma, it can cause significant stress and dysfunction. As a result, you may be suffering with any number of symptoms including depression, anxiety, interpersonal relationship difficulties or substance abuse. If left untreated, trauma may develop into Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, commonly known as PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD:

  • Re-experiencing the event as flashbacks, intrusive or disturbing thoughts
  • Avoiding situations that are reminders of the event
  • Trouble sleeping or nightmares
  • Feeling numb, cut-off or disconnected from others
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Being hyper-vigilant, easily startled or having difficulty concentrating
  • Engaging in self-destructive behaviors
  • Having an overall sense of anxiety, fear or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness, shame or despair

Posttraumatic stress can feel like a very lonely experience. However, a state of the art treatment is available to help you overcome trauma. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy is widely recognized as one of the most effective treatments for the symptoms of prior trauma and posttraumatic stress.

What is EMDR Therapy and How Does it Work?

EMDR is a powerful type therapy for treating traumatic memories and safely processing trauma. At the core of this therapy is a process called alternating Bilateral Stimulation, often referred to as BLS. When this process was initially discovered by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987, it was through a series of back and forth eye movements. Since then, clinicians have found that any type of alternating left and right side stimulation produces the same effect. Thus, BLS can be administered through a trained EMDR therapist using eye movements, tapping, tactile or auditory stimulation.

EMDR Therapy evokes and integrates information on three levels – cognitive (thoughts), emotional (feelings) and somatic (body). In EMDR, the clinician safely guides you to attend to emotionally disturbing material in brief, interrupted “sets” while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus. Attending to internal memories while focusing on an external stimulus allows you to remain grounded in the present as you process past experiences.

How EMDR Therapy Fosters Resilience

Resilience can be understood as the ability to survive adversity. When an experience has an especially strong emotional component, like in a traumatic event, your brain will make a stronger connection than if there was little emotional response. During a strong emotional reaction, your brain and body can shut off certain parts of your brain in order to ensure your survival. That experience may remain locked in as an unprocessed memory, which over time can lead to symptoms of PTSD.

EMDR Therapy is uniquely suited to treat trauma because it is based on an “adaptive information processing” model. Adaptive information processing enables new associations to be formed between traumatic and non-traumatic memories. This produces new insights and a reduction of emotional distress. With successful reprocessing of the material, your relationship to the original trauma shifts. As a result, EMDR Therapy resolves traumatic memories and enhances resilience. With EMDR Therapy, you cannot only experience significant improvements in your symptoms, you may begin to see positive changes in many areas of your life.

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