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What is EMDR Trauma-Resolution Therapy?

What is trauma?

We've all heard about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD following war, terrorism attacks and similar events. Rape, assault and other more personal experiences can also lead to PTSD.

But there's another type of trauma that is rooted in the kind of horrific experiences that children who have grown up in a dysfunctional family know all about. Theirs is a childhood filled with emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

Abandonment, neglect and domestic violence can also be a part of their youth. What happened in those early years, is not forgotten with time. It chips away at any chance of happiness and leaves the adult to deal with the scars of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those who endure chronic abuse and neglect stretched out over years at the hands of a caregiver grow up to become adults who ache from a pain-filled past.


Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Exposure to a traumatic event
  • Anxiety
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Impaired social and occupational functioning
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Memory disturbances
  • Violent Outbursts
  • Difficulty concentrating

Symptoms of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

  • Tendency to be revictimized
  • Explosive or inhibited anger (may alternate)
  • Disruption in intimate relationships
  • Repeated search for a rescuer
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Sense of helplessness
  • Sense of shame or guilt.
  • Isolation or distrust
  • Sense of being completely different from other human beings

Effects of C-PTSD

The kind of prolonged trauma that leads to C-PTSD doesn't end with childhood. It drives adults to addictions and destroys their relationships. Not surprisingly, 40 to 80 percent of female Alcoholics Anonymous members are incest survivors. Just as many men in these groups report they were abused as children.

Yet as common as childhood trauma is, all too often it is overlooked in a lifelong quest for answers. Often adult children of dysfunctional families are mislabeled as a schizophrenics, manic depressives or sociopaths when what they really are is survivors suffering from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Severe, chronic mistreatment in childhood is a powerful predictor of the misery that an adult will experience later in life.

Misdiagnosis is common, but the help adults need to recover doesn't have to be elusive. There's a powerful tool called EMDR that can quickly and effectively address trauma of all sorts.

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR might sound mysterious but it is an approach grounded in sound research. This tool was first used to help people rapidly recover from the trauma of experiences such as the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma. Yet as effective as EMDR has been in those life-changing cases, one of its most powerful roles lies in helping adult children suffering from the kind of complex trauma that leads to addictions, depression and relationship issues later in life.

How EMDR Helps

When something terrible happens to us, we often feel as if that moment is "frozen in time." We replay everything in slow motion, reliving every sight, smell and sound. EMDR takes some of the sting out of horrific experiences so that they become less painful and anxiety surrounding the memory is reduced. The adult can then move on with life. The memory is still there but EMDR has taken the edge off. What remains is the memory of what happened but without all the the pain that once surrounded it.

How EMDR was Discovered

EMDR evolved from the experiences of Dr. Frances Shapiro, who observed that when a disturbing thought came to mind, her eyes moved back and forth. Later she noticed that when she recalled the anxiety-provoking thought,it didn't bother her as much. Intrigued, she began deliberately thinking of experiences that caused her anxiety and then intentionally moving her eyes rapidly back and forth. Again she found that the once negative thoughts lost their sting and the pain surrounding them was gone.

She theorized that rapid eye movements had a desensitizing effect. The simple act of moving the eyes back and forth could reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts.

Her next step was to test her theory on others. Volunteers agreed to bring to mind anxiety-provoking thoughts. Next Dr.Shapiro asked them to follow her finger as she moved it in front of their eyes. The volunteers reported the same desensitizing effect that Dr.Shapiro had experienced. The more she tested the theory, the more she became convinced that rapid eye movement had a desensitizing effect on negative thoughts. In 1989 Dr.Shapiro reported her success using EMDR in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. Since then EMDR has been widely studied and shown to be an efficient and rapid treatment.

How EMDR is Practiced

During a typical session, you follow your therapist's finger or a tool used with EMDR from left to right with your eyes. As your eyes follow along, you will be asked to remember any disturbing experience and observe whatever comes to mind. You may be surprised by what pops up. Emotions may be intense but you simply observe them. Gradually you will see what happened to you in a different light and accept it. What was once unbearable emotional pain becomes easier to live with.

Who Benefits from EMDR

  • Adult children of dysfunctional families
  • Anyone who has been emotionally, physically or sexually abused
  • Anyone with a personality disorder
  • Anyone who has panic attacks
  • Anyone with complicated grief
  • Anyone with phobias
  • Anyone with eating disorders

Why Try EMDR?

For starters it works. Quickly and effectively. In the two decades since EMDR was first used, millions of people have benefited from this therapeutic tool. Horrible memories have been coaxed out of hiding and processed. Paralyzing fears have been faced so that balance can be restored. In short, EMDR has helped clear away negative memories and opened the door to a life filled with contentment and joy.

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