Trauma Therapy/EMDR

It’s Friday Counseling Issues time, and I’m going to a new topic.  Had more than enough of pornography!

I am a fully trained and certified EMDR provider.  I think tody I’ll tell you briefly what that’s about, and then we’ll talk about different kinds of trauma and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

When I was first introduced to EMDR, I thought it sounded like voodoo.  However, as I looked into it I became more interested and finally decided to get the training, which is intense and not inexpensive.  I have not regretted a minute of time or a cent of the money I spent to get the training.  It has changed my practice to having a more specific focus.  I still do other kinds of counseling, but trauma therapy has become my first love.

EMDR stand for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.  That’s a lot of psychobabble for a relatively simple concept  The process itself is based on the knowledge gained from sleep studies, particularly with soldiers returning from Viet Nam who were deeply traumatized.  The best thing we had to offer them, really, was lots of medication.  Some of those soldiers are still in VA hospitals, never having regained their ability to function in “normal” life.

During sleep studies with these soldiers, the observation was made over and over that when they were in deep sleep (rapid eye movement, REM)  they were NOT experiencing flashbacks, night terrors, hallucinations or other symptom of anxiety. Rather, as long as their eyes were moving rapidly under their eyelids they were completely relaxed.  It was when they began to come up out of REM sleep that the symptoms began to reappear.

Francine Shapiro, who first developed EMDR, was a doctoral student at the time. She was working on a PhD in human behavioral psychology. She read about the studies in the VA hospitals, and wondered if it would be possible to put someone in that state of relaxation while they were awake, and asking them to relive their trauma while they were relaxed, then relating what they were “seeing” to the therapist.  Here’s a video that will help you get a better idea of the basic process:

This combination of relaxation and talk therapy has become very important in the treatment of trauma victims in all different kinds of situations, ranging from mass shootings to hurricanes and tsunamis, and including the attacks in 9/11.  There are EMDR providers who have agreed to be on call for emergency situations.  I would love to be able to do that, but I find my energy level and endurance just aren’t what they used to be.

My primary use of EMDR is in treating those who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse; adult sexual trauma including rape  or attempted rape; or victims of accident injuries and related trauma.  It’s pretty normal, when working with victims of sexual assault or childhood molestation, to find that there is either ongoing assault over a period of months or years, or multiple counts of assault by more than one perpetrator.  You can read more about this here:  You’ll need to scroll all the down to the bottom of the topic to get the whole picture.

The point of EMDR is to separate the negative emotional response from the event.  When you have an event happen that you do not want, did not invite, and cannot stop, then you also have a lot of negative emotion including fear, shame, dread, worthlessness and anger.  To separate the emotions from the event is to put the event into proper perspective so you can go on with your life minus the anxiety, hypervigilance, night terrors, and depression.

Okay, that’s enough for now.  Next week, we’ll do an overlook on trauma and its effects.

7 thoughts on “Trauma Therapy/EMDR

  1. I can say from personal experience that this therapy is helpful. It helped me through the toughest emotional down-time in my life. At age 40, all the years of trying to ‘stuff’ the childhood molestation I suffered at the hands of my father and grandfather caught up with me. I no longer re-live what happened, and I no longer have horrible nightmares about it. More people need to understand about this, and thank you, Linda, for sharing.


    1. Dan, sometimes a therapist approaches the actual processing way to soon. There is something we refer to as “ego strength” that needs to be there before processing can be successful. I’m so sorry you had a not-so-great experience. I’ve never tried to treat someone whose trauma was that far back in their memory, so I really can’t say if EMDR is a good choice or not, but I do know that when it’s done right, by a therapist who has experience and is good at watching for serious reactions, it can be immensely helpful.


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