treatment is a way of addressing both the mind and the brain, at the same
time. It is based on a "digestive" model of trauma. When we eat or drink
something that is not good for us, our stomachs and intestines don't do
very well at digesting. Our bodies develop symptoms--gas, stomach pain,
cramps, etc. Sometimes we have to take antacids or other medications to
help us "get rid of" the indigestible substance. Until we finish processing
the bad food, we can't really feel comfortable in our bodies. We might
try to go about our business, go to school or work, have dates, see friends
and family, but we really don't feel well. Finally, the bad food passes
through our systems, and we are relieved and feel well again.
Trauma theory tells us that when a trauma happens to us, our brain
becomes overwhelmed and cannot process or "digest" the experience. The
memory of the bad event "gets stuck" in our psyche, and cannot process
out - it cannot be eliminated from our system. So, we have repetitive
thoughts about the event, we keep remembering parts of it, perhaps we
have bad dreams about it, or, even flashbacks. Maybe we get so upset that
we turn to drugs or alcohol or food to blunt how upset we feel. Maybe
we are partly successful in putting the bad event out of our minds, but
then, one day we walk past the street where it happened, or see a photo
of something that reminds us of it, or our friend says something that
brings it up all over again. We get ambushed by the memory of that terrible
thing. Again and again.
treatment is a way of transforming the memory of the trauma into a more
"digestible" form, so we can break it down, and process it through our
psyches. At the end of a successful EMDR treatment, the patient has the
felt experience that the trauma is over.
EMDR treatment is conducted in at least 3 parts (and sometimes more):
1) A structured interview in which the issue to be targeted is
selected. Then specific questions are asked, in order to narrow the field
of inquiry, and focus the patient's mind in particular ways.
2) The traumatic event is processed, using one of the forms of
neurological bilateral stimulation (eye movements, auditory, or tactile).
3) Following the processing, there is a debriefing provided before
the patient leaves the session.
I was doing my EMDR training, in 1998, I had a first chance to see
this transformation in action. During the part of the training where
the attending therapists try the technique on each other in pairs,
I was partnered with a gentleman in his mid-60's who disclosed that
he'd been left back in 2nd grade. He had been dyslexic back in the
days before anyone understood this neurological condition, and he
was plagued with poor self-esteem based on his academic problems.
His family handled his being left back very poorly, and this poor
little boy had been shamed and punished. Here he was in 1998, an
older man, an accomplished professional, and still, at times, feeling
all the old terrible feelings, and thinking all the same bad things
about himself. This decades old trauma had bothered him all these
years. I played the therapist for him, and we went through the EMDR
protocol. Finally, at the end of the processing, when I asked what
he was thinking, he said, with surprise---"Well, it all happened
a very long time ago. It's not true anymore. It's all over." And
then, he laughed, long and hard at feeling so relieved and free.
of being released from old traumas is the expected outcome from EMDR work.
information about EMDR, see the following websites: www.EMDR.com