Many clinicians would define trauma as an experience that threatens a person’s life, well-being, sense of safety, or sense of control over one’s self. Sometimes trauma is a single catastrophic experience and the event that caused the trauma is easily identifiable (such as a car accident, assault, or natural disaster). Other times, traumatic experiences are more pervasive and happen over a long period of time such as violation or betrayal in relationships.
Individuals who suffer trauma often struggle with feeling unable to trust themselves and others again. Symptoms may not be noticed for several weeks, months, or even years after a traumatic event occurs. Symptoms can include panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, inability to feel safe or let one’s guard down, feeling numb or disconnected, feeling un-well physically, feeling unmotivated, hopeless or helpless, and sabotaging relationships. Trauma sufferers often find themselves drinking, using drugs, or acting out (such as taking risks or being impulsive with money or sex) to try to cope with strange or unpleasant feelings.
Briefly, how EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) generally works is that a client will identify a memory, event, or feeling that is disturbing to them and that is the identified “target”. The therapist will initiate desensitization and reprocessing of the target using bi-lateral stimulation. I usually use eye movements but tapping or sounds can also be used.
There should not be any unpleasant physical sensations associated with the administration of EMDR, although some physical sensations may be brought up by unpleasant memories. A client always has the right to stop desensitization and the therapist will be attending to the client’s safety during the process. Clients remain fully aware and in control of themselves during desensitization and reprocessing.
EMDR does not erase memories, nor does it stop a person from ever experiencing sadness, anxiety, or unpleasant feelings again. What it can do is help a person better understand what has happened to them, experience less distress when they think about what has happened to them, and feel more empowered to handle future stressors. Many people who have gone through EMDR report feeling more able to focus on their present life instead of continuing to relive the pain of the past.