EMDR Therapy is for more than PTSD
Over the past year, I have become trained in using EMDR (Eye Movement De-sensitization Reprocessing) therapy in my practice. This is a newer therapy modality that just in the last 20 years or so has become a evidence based practice at treating trauma with amazing results. Patients who have been suffering with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder even after years of traditional cognitive therapies along with psychiatric medications are still suffering many times daily with symptoms -- including flashbacks, panic attacks, nightmares, inability to function - just to name a few. These same patients are now being seen in EMDR and are now able to function in their everyday lives --go back to work, stop abusing substances, and rekindle relationships. No longer suffering with horrible flashbacks, nightmares, and panic. Don't worry, I didn't believe it when I first heard of it either. What is this? I thought. Some weird voo-doo thing? It is truly amazing to see it help first hand!
However, EMDR goes way beyond helping treat PTSD. I have seen it first hand help those suffering with General Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Eating Disorders, and substance abuse disorders. I have seen it help all ages -- from as young as 7 to as old as 65. (that is the general age range of my clients). The reason EMDR helps these conditions is for many reasons. First of all, many times, even though not every client meets diagnostic criteria for PTSD --- MANY people, I would say, MOST of my clients actually, have some sort of trauma in their history. They may not even realize it when they first come into my office. "oh my life is great, I don't know why I'm sad" or "I had a good childhood, I don't know why I have a hard time".... but when you go digging through the relationship building phase, you discover there IS something there. It could be something as little as feeling left out socially, or witnessing fighting between your parents, or a sibling who struggled with something. It could be something more pronounced like a history of sexual or physical abuse, but NOT ALWAYS! It is really important for the clients to realize that just because they initially think their life was fine, that it is OKAY to be angry, hurt, resentful over something that happened in their past.
Our past experiences shape our thoughts. That is just a part of life. If we grow up hearing "you could do better" from a parent, then a teacher, then a friend, then a boss, then a significant other... we start to believe it. We may struggle with self-esteem and not know how to deal with it, so in turn, we start using substances we shouldn't, or maybe we stop eating or eat too much. Or maybe we just start feeling really sad, worthless and depressed and can't even really explain why. These are symptoms of a lack of healthy coping skills-- that have developed due to our life experiences... those negative cognitions have been drilled into our head over and over and over again and we now just have a response to it, an automatic one - in other words, our defense mechanism is to do whatever it is we know that keeps us "safe". With EMDR, we can help process those feelings, those cognitions, and those past experiences so that our brains can heal -- we can move forward and be able to respond with healthy coping mechanisms the next time we are exposed to the triggers.
There is a lot more I could say about this. Researchers are still learning about EMDR. One of the great things about this modality is that it has real evidence of it helping heal the brain -- as it has been seen with brain imagery scans and research.
In closing, please remember that something that is traumatic to one person, may not be traumatic to the next -- and it is never a good idea to compare war wounds. Two people can go through a car accident for example and it will likely effect them very differently because of their biology, their life experiences and resources.