EMDR Therapy Helps Those with PTSD Regain Control Over Their Trauma

Living with post-traumatic stress disorder can cause individuals to become engulfed in negative emotions and drift away from those closest to them. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, in combination with holistic therapies, can break through this fog of negative memories and see the positivity and love that is waiting to be re-experienced in life.

“I can’t remember the last time I felt safe,” my friend Marty said to me during a conversation about the terror that he has felt since returning from Iraq. “I’m scared to close my eyes at night because I know I’m going to see the same images over and over again.” During his time overseas, Marty witnessed horrific events that were burned into his memories and continue to make day-to-day functioning extremely difficult. Since his return and subsequent diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), family members and loved ones have made it their priority to provide him with as much support as possible.

Despite support and group therapy, many with PTSD still have difficulty dealing with traumatic memories and the emotions that come with them. Confronting these issues is akin to reliving a nightmare, but with the aid of specialized therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), therapy patients can acknowledge these memories and understand them in a neutral light, providing them with the hope that they need to take control over their trauma.

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Lighting the Path to Resolution with EMDR

EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that helps those with PTSD process their traumatic memories and resolve them in order to relieve themselves of the distress and negative arousal that typically comes with the memories. Using EMDR therapy, psychotherapists can help clients use the brain to heal itself in a natural manner, much like physical therapists work the body and stimulate it to strengthen and heal.

During EMDR therapy, clients give attention to their distressing memories, as well as the emotions and bodily sensations attached to them. While this is happening, they are asked to focus on external stimuli in the form of hand motions. Through the process of focusing on both their internal memories and external stimuli, clients gradually build new associations throughout the course of the session. These new associations are typically positive, allowing clients to move from the processing of negative, traumatic memories into dealing with positive ones, weakening the grip of the negative emotions and kick-starting normal brain processes.

Although the exact way that EMDR affects the neurobiology of the brain is not known, it seems to alter long-lasting, negative memories that drag down the lives of those suffering from PTSD, by allowing the brain to process them in a healthier manner. After therapy is complete, clients are no longer overwhelmed by distressing emotions when traumatic memories are brought to mind—although they will still feel some stress, in the end these memories do not have the same debilitating effect on their emotional state.

One of the biggest advantages of EMDR therapy is its promising effect on recovery time in those with PTSD. Many studies point to EMDR as being more rapid in its treatment of emotional trauma compared to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and another study suggests that EMDR therapy led to greater increases in mood in those with PTSD compared to clients that only used traditional group therapy. Together, these findings highlight the ability of EMDR to improve mood and help clients process their emotions in a healthier way, ultimately leading to a more effective treatment plan—particularly when paired with multiple other treatments.

Compounding EMDR Benefits with Holistic Therapies

On its own, EMDR can be extremely effective at helping those with PTSD process their negative memories. However, in combination with holistic therapies such as pottery and mindfulness meditation, clients can create new, positive experiences to help them during the process of coming to terms with their negative emotions and dealing with them in a healthier manner. Other beneficial treatments that can promote positivity and healing during PTSD therapy include yoga, group therapy, and physical fitness classes. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in combination with the faster-acting EMDR is also a very effective course of treatment.

Living in fear of a traumatic past can eliminate the possibility of a healthy, positive future, and can thrust loved ones into a world of worry and hopelessness. As scary as this can be, understanding that the right treatment can help those suffering from PTSD cope with and eliminate this fear is the first step towards getting them help and loosening the grip that their past has on their present.

Bridges to Recovery offers EMDR as part of our comprehensive treatment for individuals living with post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as other co-occurring mental health disorders, substance abuse, or process addictions. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one overcome their traumatic experiences and live a better life.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Joshua Earle