Childhood Sexual Abuse: Trauma Treatment

What you see above is a short news story describing the treatment I use to help victims/survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA).  It is not the only treatment, and it isn’t necessarily the best choice in ever single case.  However, it is highly effective and requires no medication.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is psychobabble for a simple process.  Last week I suggested you go to emdria.org if you wanted to learn about this process.  What I’ll give you here today is a very simplified description of this treatment, which I have used very successfully with several CSA victims.

During sleep studies done on traumatized Viet Nam veterans back in the ’70’s and ’80’s, the connection was made to REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and a state of deep relaxation.  During REM sleep, the traumatized veterans were not plagued with nightmares and hallucinations that destroyed their sleep, thereby increasing their dysfunction during the day.  These soldiers were victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), for which there were very few treatments other than medication.

The connection to deeply relaxed sleep, a calm state, and the periods of REM led a human behavioral psychology doctorate candidate, Francine Shapiro, to enlist some of her classmates in a series of experiments.  She theorized that if she could help traumatized people get to that state of deep relaxation through the use of eye movement, then ask them to relive their trauma verbally, that perhaps the event could be separated from the strong negative emotion that caused so much distress.

That was the beginning of EMDR, which has since become the treatment of choice in the military. EMDR providers have been enlisted to help in major events such as the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001; the tsunamis, Hurricane Katrina, school shootings, and so on. People who survive these horrific events are often left to struggle with the symptoms of PTSD, including depression, nightmares, night terrors, hallucinations, hyper-vigilance, and extreme anxiety.

So why is it used for CSA?  Is that really a trauma?  Can’t people just get over it?

Any time you have an event tied to extremely negative emotion, you have trauma. We can’t erase the event or the memory, but we can help the person separate out the emotion so that the memory no longer interferes with daily living, or with sleep. It’s a fascinating process.  When I was first introduced to it, frankly, I thought it was baloney.  But after watching presentations, reading and studying what has been learned about the brain and stimulation of both sides of the brain, and taking the intensive training, I have to say that I’ve never found a more useful or successful way to help people deal with overwhelming anxiety linked to a trauma. It has literally changed the direction of my work, which now centers on helping victims of CSA.  Those who have stayed with me and done the work send me new clients, who in turn send me others.

The difficulty for me, of course, is that I hear such heartbreaking stories of abuse, betrayal, and the subsequent misery that accompanies CSA.  I’m thankful that for the most part I’m able to leave it all behind me when I leave the office.  Prayer and scripture are good for me, as well as for my clients.

Again, if you’d like to learn more about EMDR, go to http://www.emdria.org.  It’s the best internet source for accurate information.  Be careful about believing everything you may read on other websites. Some of it is just not true. Some of it is based on only a partial exposure to EMDR, and some of it is based purely on ill-informed opinion.  It always amazes me how people who have no idea what they’re talking about can speak with such authority 🙂

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