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EMDR: Hope For Trauma & PTSD

What is Trauma?

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Do you ever worry that what happened to you in the past is playing out in your present, making you feel stuck in some way? You might be on to something. Trauma is the result of living with the impact of difficult events. Trauma is considered a form of extreme anxiety. 


Single Event: "Big T" Trauma: happens from a single event like a car accident, witnessing a difficult event (such as a first responder viewing the aftermath of a violent crime or accident), or being the survivor of a crime.


  Chronic or "small t" trauma: occurs when you experience long-term stress like an illness, chronic abuse, constant stress, or a difficult environment to grow up in.  


Whether what happened to cause the trauma occurred 5 weeks ago or 50 years ago, you can heal and gain new hope for your future. Talk therapy, including EMDR, can help unpack troubling events and reduce or even eliminate the painful emotional connections, allowing you to access new, more empowering ways of thinking about yourself and others. 

What is PTSD?

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe form of trauma, that can come from a single event, or a chronically difficult environment like combat or domestic abuse. It can even be the result of a difficult relationship or other troubling condition in life. PTSD causes a person to experience a past event over and over, long after the danger or lack of safety is over.  it can lead to coping strategies that may make the negative impact of the PTSD worse, like addiction, high-conflict in relationships, avoiding relationships all together, difficulty managing anger, or holding down a job. Symptoms can include, but aren't limited to : (for at least a month or more):

  • Intrusive thoughts about the trauma
  • Re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares
  • Feeling "jumpy" or startled by (depending on the form of trauma) loud noises, being touched, smells, hearing certain sounds that bring back feelings of the trauma
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Avoiding people, places or events
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Feeling detached or distant from others
  • Feeling numb or having difficulty feeling positive emotions
  • Anger or irritability
  • Dissociating


Do I have PTSD? You can take this questionnaire at no charge from the US Veterans Administration

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/assessment/screens/tsq.asp



EMDR Therapy

Why Consider EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)?

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  EMDR is a unique and effective form of psychotherapy designed to reduce or eliminate the intensity of negative emotions and/or physical symptoms related to difficult events and traumatic memories. After nearly 30 years of clinical research, it is now seen as a standard best practice in treating a variety of mental health issues. EMDR has been effective in treating: 

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
  • Phobias/Fears
  • Addictions 
  • Other issues.


 It is used extensively by mental health facilities supporting members of the military, veterans, and first responders

What is EMDR and What Makes It Different?

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Unlike most forms of talk therapy, EMDR focuses less on talking about the event or the dysfunctional thinking, and more on the emotional experience (fear, anger, etc.) and the stressful physical symptoms (feeling tense, sick, rapid breathing, tunnel vision, craving, etc.) related to the issue being treated.  


EMDR can be used either as a stand-alone approach to treatment, or in conjunction with other types of talk therapy. 


The goal is for the client to be able to recall the memory or previously stressful thoughts without experiencing the unpleasant emotional or physical response that they had been burdened by in the past. 


EMDR addresses both the conscious way of thinking about an issue with the (less conscious) emotional AND physical response to that thinking

Why Does It Work?

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The scientific answer to that question is: We don’t yet know. 

The technology does not yet exist that allows us to pinpoint why this process is so effective in the brain. There are a number of reasonable theories out there. One that makes sense to me: 

We think that in trauma, certain unpleasant memories/feelings  or ways of thinking seem to get “stuck” in our brains. instead of fading into the background like other difficult or unpleasant events in our lives. These memories repeatedly trigger a moderate or even major emotional experience, where we relive the terror, shame, grief etc. over and over. It seems like we can't  get past it, no matter how much we “know” logically, that we are okay. The EMDR protocol helps to “unstick” the traumatic memory, allowing it to fade into the background, like any other unpleasant memory. This removes the "trigger" that forces the person to relive the experience, 

mentally, emotionally, and physically long after it is over. This creates the foundation from which the person can now see new options, where before there seemed to be no hope for any meaningful change.

What to Expect in an EMDR Session

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The first 1-2 sessions will involve taking a detailed, thorough history to identify potential targets for reprocessing..


The treatment process involves a form of bilateral (alternating) stimulation such as  tapping, pulsers or rapid side-to-side eye movement where the client follows the therapist’s hand movement or an LED Light Bar. The form of bilateral stimulation that feels most comfortable to the client is discussed in the first session. The therapist  guiding the client through a specific protocol to help “desensitize” (reduce the intensity of) the client’s emotional response to a distressing memory or thought. This is followed by “reprocessing” which allows the client to gain greater freedom, confidence, sense of calm and/or control over their negative feelings and physical symptoms. 

How Many EMDR Sessions Will I Need?

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As with any form of psychotherapy, the number of sessions required to obtain a client’s treatment goals differs for everyone, because each person presents with their own unique issue(s). The therapeutic alliance (the quality of the relationship between the client and therapist) is also an important factor. However, it is not uncommon for EMDR clients to report experiencing some relief from troubling symptoms or thoughts in the first few sessions. Phobias (fear of flying, speaking, driving, spiders, etc.) tend to respond to treatment quickly, while more complex issues like PTSD, childhood abuse, addictions, chronic anxiety, depression, etc., generally require more sessions. However, every client’s experience and outcome with EMDR is unique. The client and therapist will work together to create a treatment plan that works for the client’s specific needs and objectives. 

Eileen's EMDR Experience

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Eileen Peterson, MSW RCSW, has been using EMDR with clients since 2013. In addition to the Basic EMDR training, she has taken specialized training in Attachment-Focused EMDR, EMDR and Addictions and Rewiring the Addicted Brain: Attachment-Focused EMDR in Addictions. She is a certified EMDR practitioner through EMDR Canada


"When I first started to work with EMDR, I was immediately impressed by the benefits it provided to those living with significant trauma in their pasts.  But, it quickly became clear that the EMDR protocol had a lot to offer almost anyone struggling with something that makes them feel stuck or unable to move on, from not being able to get onto an airplane; getting over a difficult break up; kicking an addiction; overcoming shame, childhood abuse or a violent attack. EMDR isn't right in every case, but it's a remarkable tool that can produce remarkable results"