Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), developed in 1987 by Dr. Francine Shapiro, has shown to be useful in assisting residents in resolving traumatic experiences and is an integral part of the Program for Sexual and Trauma Recovery (PSTR) at Sierra Tucson. Dr. Shapiro, a psychologist in the San Francisco area, initially used EMDR to help Vietnam War veterans process the extreme trauma they had experienced.
Since the development of EMDR, countless clinicians worldwide have been trained in this method. It has been used to treat residents with a variety of disorders including phobias, depression disorders, and anxiety disorder, but has been most widely used with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). EMDR is currently recommended by the American Psychological Association and leading authorities on trauma resolution.
The Hidden Prison of Trauma
When an individual is emotionally overwhelmed from a traumatic event, the brain cannot process information as it normally does, and the emotion becomes “stuck.” The act of remembering triggers a “fight or flight” response. The resulting memories of sights, sounds, smells, thoughts, and emotions can feel as intense as when the traumatic event actually occurred. Such upsetting memories can have a profoundly negative impact on the way an individual sees the world and relates to self as well as others.
EMDR and PTSD
EMDR is utilized to change an individual’s emotional response from dysfunctional to healthy by allowing access to adult coping skills and resources to use later in life. The technique utilizes bilateral auditory, visual, and tactile stimulation (also known as Dual Attention Stimulation, or DAS) while thinking about a traumatic memory.
As the individual remembers the event and associated memories while continuing with DAS, he or she can resolve troubling emotions and cognitively reframe negative belief systems associated with the trauma. Subsequently, residents often report that symptoms associated with PTSD such as nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, and even suicidal thoughts are greatly diminished and sometimes absent entirely after only one to three sessions.
EMDR is ordered for the resident when clinically appropriate. Although EMDR is successfully used on an outpatient basis, the safety of the inpatient setting allows individuals to focus on their therapeutic work without the distractions of ordinary daily responsibilities. Occasionally a resident can experience between-session disturbances that make inpatient treatment a desirable scenario.
The resident can take the best advantage of time in treatment and the opportunity to experience EMDR as part of a specialized therapeutic focus to find relief from the debilitating symptoms of PTSD.