By JAMIE WILKINSON-FRANKS
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic approach developed in 1987 that was initially utilized in the treatment of trauma, specifically veterans of war and sexual abuse survivors. As our understanding of treatment and the brain has continued to evolve, so has the use of this treatment. Now, it is utilized in the treatment of depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias and many more.
There are two types of trauma: big “T” covers experiences during war, car accidents, sexual abuse, child abuse and shootings; while little “t” covers divorce, watching someone close to you die, and abandonment.
Although our thoughts about these traumas may be different, our brain interprets them the same way. Some experiences we can process without getting stuck, but other experiences may get stuck in our limbic system (fight or flight system), causing us to experience the need to run away or hide. Once an experience is stuck, it may get triggered and you may experience the same response, regardless of where you are. For instance, being cut in line at a grocery store can result in an irrational response of yelling or putting your head down and walking out of the store.
People may start counseling because of a big “T”; however, through exploration we discover that there were earlier little “t” experiences that started to build the foundation for the big “T” to get stuck. Trauma experiences that are stuck start to interfere in every aspect of life: work, relationships, and socially. As we explore these aspects of life, there is often a theme present that is tied to a negative belief about yourself, like “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not safe,” or “I’m unlovable.”
The eye movement feature of EMDR works to simulate REM sleep patterns, where your eyes move as your brain naturally processes the day. My clients follow my fingers or use a light bar to guide that movement. This allows for the body response and thoughts attached to that isolated memory to begin processing so that it no longer has the intense negative charge.
Since I started using it in my practice, I have seen success in ways that other treatments were not able to attain. My patients report an overall sense of calm, an ability to respond to stressors in a different way, and improved interactions with others where they previously took everything as a personal attack.
Wilkinson-Franks is a licensed independent social worker with JWF Counseling, Findlay. If there is a mental health question, please write to: Mental Health Moment, The Courier, P.O. Box 609, Findlay 45839.