Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy may not be a term you’re familiar with, but it’s proving to be a very effective treatment for those who suffer from PTSD.
PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and affects roughly 12 million adults in America each year. It’s a trauma response that many people experience but just don’t know how to seek help for.
On this page you’ll find information about causes and symptoms of PTSD as well as an overview of the EMDR therapy process and how it can help those with PTSD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
About 6% of the population will experience PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, at some point in their lives, and women are twice as likely to deal with the effects of PTSD than men.
To gain a better understanding of why EMDR therapy is so effective in treating those with PTSD, it’s important to know what PTSD is, its causes, and its symptoms.
What is PTSD?
According to the Disabled Veteran National Foundation, PTSD is an acute reaction to a traumatic event that can cause negative symptoms associated with whatever the traumatic experience was.
Essentially, PTSD is a mental setback that can occur after you experience or witness a life-threatening event like combat, a serious accident, a natural disaster, or sexual assault.
Those who have PTSD may experience disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their traumatic experience long after the traumatic event has ended. Anyone of any age, race, nationality, or ethnicity is prone to getting PTSD, which makes treatment for this disorder that much more valuable.
Potential Causes of PTSD
As stated earlier, PTSD can be caused by a traumatic event at any point in a person’s life. Some of the more common causes of PTSD may include:
- Exposure to combat or war
- Childhood physical or sexual abuse
- Sexual assault or violence
- Physical assault
- Being threatened with a weapon
- A serious accident or natural disaster
- Inherited mental health risks, such as a family history of depression or anxiety disorders
Symptoms of PTSD & Receiving a Diagnosis
Typically, PTSD symptoms begin within a month of a traumatic event, but there are cases where symptoms don’t arise until years after the trauma.
It’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms of PTSD before they begin interfering with your social, family, or work life in a very negative way.
PTSD symptoms are often grouped into four categories:
- Intrusive memories
- Negative changes in thinking and mood
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions
In order to be given a formal diagnosis for PTSD, symptoms must last for more than a month and must be having a severe negative impact on your daily living.
Let’s break down the symptoms of each category in the following sections.
Some symptoms of intrusive memories might include:
- Intense, recurrent, distressing memories of the traumatic experience
- Experiencing flashbacks of the traumatic event, which means you are reliving the trauma as if it were happening again
- Disturbing dreams or nightmares about the trauma
- Emotional or physical reactions to something that triggers a reminder of the traumatic event
Some symptoms of avoidance might include:
- Consistently trying to ignore thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind you of the traumatic experience
Negative Changes in Thinking & Mood
Some symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood might include:
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Feeling detached from family or friends
- Losing interest in activities or hobbies you usually enjoy
- Being emotionally numb
- Not being able to experience positive emotions
- Issues with your memory, including not remembering certain aspects of the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts about yourself or others
- Feeling hopeless about the future
Changes in Physical & Emotional Reactions
Some symptoms of changes in physical & emotional reactions might include:
- Easily being scared or startled
- Always being on guard for danger
- Issues with sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling a sense of overwhelming guilt or shame
- Irritability or aggressive, angry outbursts
- Destructive behavior such as alcohol or drug abuse
How EMDR Therapy Can Help
EMDR is a form of therapy that stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR therapy is proving to be a very effective way to help treat those who suffer from the effects of PTSD.
This is because EMDR therapy is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories.
The whole goal of EMDR therapy is to facilitate the accessing and processing of traumatic memories in an effort to relieve distress, reframe negative beliefs, and reduce physiological arousal.
EMDR therapy takes place in the presence of a licensed professional counselor or psychologist in an eight-step process where the individual is asked to recall the traumatic memories or images while the therapist creates a sensory input, like side-to-side eye movements or hand tapping.
Each session is about 90 minutes long with the intent of helping you process your trauma as a way to lead to wholeness and healing.
Let’s take a look at the eight phases of EMDR therapy below.
The Eight Phases of EMDR Therapy
The eight stages of EMDR therapy include:
- History and treatment planning
- Body Scan
Let’s unpack each phase of EMDR therapy individually to get a better picture of what this type of therapy includes.
Phase 1: History & Treatment Planning
The first phase is all about taking an inventory of the client’s readiness for treatment by going over trauma triggers, intrusive memories, and really just unpacking the traumatic event so the therapist can get a bigger picture of what happened.
From there, the therapist will then create a treatment plan.
Phase 2: Preparation
The second stage is about building trust between the client and the therapist. The therapist will teach the client different ways to healthily manage emotional stress through imagery or other stress-reduction techniques.
Phases 3-6: Assessment, Desensitization, Installation, & Body Scan
During phases 3-6, the trauma is identified and processed using EMDR therapy techniques. This includes the client identifying the following:
- A vivid visual image related to the traumatic memory
- A negative belief about themselves
- Emotions and body sensations related to the trauma
The therapist will also ask the client to hold onto a positive belief about themselves to help keep them grounded throughout the sessions.
As the client focuses on the image, negative thoughts, and body sensations, they will begin to simultaneously engage in EMDR stimulations such as eye movements, taps, or different tones.
After each set of stimulation, the therapist then encourages the client let their mind go blank and to notice whatever thought, feeling, image, memory, or sensation comes to mind. This process is repeated numerously throughout the session, with attention drawn to that one positive belief.
The goal is that the more the trauma is named and acknowledged, alongside the bilateral stimulation, that healing can transpire.
Phase 7: Closure
Once in phase 7, the therapist will ask the client to keep a diary or log throughout the week to document any triggers that may arise. This is where the client will put into practice the calming or stress reducing techniques that were learned in phase 2 as they intentionally reflect on their day-to-day living.
Phase 8: Reevaluation
The final phase of EMDR therapy consists of examining the progress the client has made thus far. If there are other areas of trauma that need attention, the therapist will then decide to start the process over again and tailor it to this new trauma.
The goal at the end of EMDR therapy is that clients will learn how to process what happened to them, reframe negative beliefs, relieve distress and trauma responses, and experience physiological reconciliation.
Speak to a Counselor
If you or someone you know suffers from the negative effects of PTSD, then it may be time to ask for help.
Here at Seattle Christian Counseling, we would love to speak with you about the appropriate treatment for you. If you are looking for a safe space to process your trauma, learn how to cope with triggers, and reduce stress, then please don’t hesitate to reach out to our reception team to schedule an appointment.