EMDR as a Treatment for Trauma
by Kambria Kennedy-Dominguez
I am pleased to announce that I can now offer EMDR therapy at Flourish. EMDR is a therapeutic modality that stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It was developed by a therapist named Francine Shapiro in in 1989, when she noticed a healing effect from side to side eye movements for anxiety and mental distress. The approach has evolved in many ways since that time. I recently attended a 3-day EMDR training to learn how to use this modality with my clients, and I am so excited to share it, especially for those individuals with either complex or single-incident trauma in their history. Complex trauma involves repeated exposure to abuse, neglect, life-threatening or terrifying situations. Single incident trauma, in contrast, occurs as the result of a one time traumatic event. EMDR is helpful for all types of trauma.
EMDR doesn't always involve eye movement. Researchers have found other types of "alternating bilateral stimulation" to be just as effective. I use a tool called the Theratapper, which clients hold in either hand as it pulses in one hand then the other. Below is a photo of the device. We use this tool once clients have a clear understanding of the clinical reasoning behind it, and how this bilateral stimulation seems to have a healing effect on the brain's ability to process difficult memories and experiences.
Modern research into trauma treatment tells us that the physical body is highly involved in how survivors cope with and re-experience terrifying situations. The fight, flight, freeze response is an energetic process that occurs in concert between body and mind, and is designed to protect us. However, neural pathways that are laid down to respond in times of crisis or in times of chronic stress became habituated to be set off in similar but "triggering" non-threatening situations, which can significantly disrupt the daily lives of survivors. Disruption occurs because traumatic memory is implicit. Implicit memories are retrieved unconsciously, beyond our desire or will, such as flashbacks and intrusions. In contrast, explicit memory is consciously retrieved when and if we desire to. This distinction is key to understanding how EMDR works in the brain to heal the lasting effects of trauma. For more information about the complex but immense wealth of knowledge we now have in trauma treatment, here are a few highly regarded books about trauma's effect on the brain and body. Much of this research supports the use of EMDR as a treatment for trauma.
The Essential Stages of EMDR
Kambria Kennedy-Dominguez, Counselor and yoga teacher specializing in mental health, substance abuse and wellness.