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emdr and ptsd

PTSD & EMDR Therapy

The Nystrom & Associates provider consulted for this article is Christa Overson, MSE, LMFT, Outpatient Therapist, and EMDR Trained Clinician. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition that can occur in response to a disturbing event. This can include directly experiencing or witnessing an event that continues to impact their lives and relationships. While PTSD can be debilitating, there are treatment options available, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Let’s dive into what exactly EMDR therapy is, and what makes it unique.  

For more information on the signs and symptoms of PTSD, click here.

What is EMDR Therapy? 

EMDR is a type of psychotherapy that treats individuals who experience trauma or PTSD. First developed by Francine Shapiro in 1987, EMDR has been proven as an effective healing treatment for trauma or other distressing life experiences. It consists of eight phases with the goal of transforming the meaning of the traumatic events on an emotional level. 

Typically, people assume that emotional distress from a disturbing life experience will take a long time to heal and process. However, EMDR research shows that the mind will heal from an emotional trauma like a physical injury. The brain wants to heal itself, just as the physical body wants to heal from a broken bone or cut. Therapists utilize detailed protocols and procedures in EMDR, allowing the brain’s normal healing process to resume. 

Related: A Fixed vs. Growth Mindset 

PTSD & the Brain  

To understand how EMDR helps PTSD, it’s important to first look at why PTSD symptoms (such as panic attacks) continue after an upsetting event occurs. To help explain this, Christa OversonOutpatient Therapist and EMDR Trained Clinician at Nystrom & Associates describes the relationship between PTSD and the brain:

According to neuroscience, PTSD is based on a fundamental miscommunication between the survival brain and the logic brain, and its healing (EMDR, for example) is about clarifying and re-filing necessary information. With PTSD, the brain is pulled in two directions: The survival brain wants to remain vigilant and hold onto the memories so that we do not get caught in a similar situation- hence the flashbacks, jumpiness, irritability, and so on. The logical brain has another agenda, though- it demands we move on since the event is over now and we got through it. EMDR allows these two parts of the brain to communicate so that the event can be examined and ‘filed’ in a way that satisfies both parties and allows the whole person to move forward.

Related: Panic Attacks: 4 Quick Tips to Help Cope 

What Makes EMDR Different? 

When it comes to PTSD and trauma, an individual’s brain convinces them that they are still reliving those traumatic memories. This leads to increased levels of stress.  Even though the event is over, trauma remains. Difficult emotions, images, and thoughts can bring people back to that moment, causing them to repeatedly experience their trauma. Overall, EMDR helps people to reprocess their traumatic memories so normal healing can begin. The experience doesn’t go away, but it leaves individuals with their fight, flight, or freeze response resolved.  

EMDR utilizes rapid eye movements in a session. First, a therapist will help you identify a negative belief from a disruptive memory. Put simply, a therapist will move their hands back and forth in front of your eyes while you follow them. Guiding individuals through eye movements allows the mind to process small chunks at a time. Throughout this process in therapy, you’ll recall memories from an upsetting event, including physical and emotional sensations. Eventually, the therapist will move toward recalling more pleasant memories and positive beliefs. EMDR therapy is a gentler way to treat trauma by focusing on the present moment. In time, trauma will not have the same effect as in the past. 

Related: How Therapy Helps With Depression 

A Word From Nystrom & Associates 

Remember, having trauma or PTSD does not mean that you are weak. Here at Nystrom & Associates, there are many EMDR trained clinicians who want to help you recover from trauma and begin your healing journey. Your mental health deserves to be a priority. Call 1-844-NYSTROM or schedule an appointment online if you’re interested in EMDR therapy. 

Click here to learn more about PTSD and how therapy can help. 

Related: What Are Mental Health Days?

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