Trauma is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or perceived threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence. This can be by directly experiencing or witnessing it, learning of the traumatic event occurring to a family member or friend, or repeated exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event. Trauma is the result of experiencing distressing events that exceed the persons ability to cope. When a traumatic event or series of events are experienced, the person can re-experience the event when triggers (trauma reminders) occur. The triggers can cause flashbacks of the trauma that causes them to feel unsafe in the here and now. They can also have nightmares and can become hyper-vigilant, constantly looking for danger.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the development of specific symptoms following a traumatic event or a series of events. It involves re-experiencing the event, intrusive disturbing thoughts, and avoidance of stimuli that is associated with the
trauma. The person with PTSD can also experience dissociative symptoms (depersonalization or derealization) as an attempt to cope with the overwhelming emotional response.

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed by Francine Shapiro to help victims of trauma, including those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) . EMDR is recognized by numerous organizations including the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, and the Department of Defense, as effective for treating trauma and other conditions such as anxiety, panic disorders, phobias, flashbacks/intrusive memories, depression, low self-esteem, stress, pain, and social anxiety. 

How Does EMDR Work?

When we experience trauma, our brain is often unable to process the information in a healthy way and the trauma/event is stuck or frozen in an unprocessed form.  As a result, the person can be triggered in the present and re-experience the trauma and the negative emotions, beliefs, and sensations, as though it is happening now.  EMDR utilizes the brains natural ability to heal through bilateral stimulation (similar to what occurs during REM sleep) to unlock the frozen event and allow the person to reprocess and store the trauma in a healthy way.  Therefore, the event is remembered as a part of the past without the intensity of the original trauma.

What to Expect in an EMDR Session

The therapist and client will identify memories, dreams, or flashbacks that are causing the client distress. The EMDR therapist will guide the client through reprocessing the traumatic event, through bilateral stimulation of the brain. This can be through eye movement, tapping, or auditory tones.  With repeated bilateral stimulation, the memory tends to lose the associated painful intensity and become a neutral event from the past. The client will remain fully awake and in control of the process. This could take one session or several sessions depending on the nature of the traumatic event.