Trauma is when you experience terror after a trigger brings up a terrible memory. What makes trauma so powerful is that these are unprocessed memories. When trauma occurs, it gets locked in your body or frozen in time, where it lies unprocessed. And because of this, the traumatic memory has no time stamp. So, experiencing the traumatic memory in present time, can sometimes feels as if you are still back at the time the trauma occurred. The shock of the traumatic event is still alive and kicking. With the help of triggers, you start to relive this memory when you are awake and in your dreams. This is often referred to as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
There is one way that you can process your memories without having to talk about them. Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of therapy that can change the emotional intensity of a distressing memory. The anxiety that trauma brings you can finally be put to rest through bilateral stimulation that can be visual, auditory, or kinesthetic while you think of the memory. Most commonly, you will watch a moving ball on your computer screen, or your therapist’s finger moving back and forth or even a light that flashes back and forth. The idea is that by thinking of the memory, with some kind of strategic distraction, can help neutralize the intensity of the traumatic memory. Eventually, you can think of this memory without the anxiety that normally comes with it.
Here is how EMDR can help with anxiety.
Your therapist will first get an understanding of your background. This could involve talking about the past events that have caused you stress as well as what is causing you stress now. Your history is the starting point for establishing a relationship with your mental health specialist.
Once your therapist gets a true understanding of your history, they can come up with a personalized treatment plan to help you. These specific memories will be targeted based on the information you give to your therapist.
It helps knowing what exactly you are getting yourself into if you are new to EMDR. Your therapist will explain what will happen during treatment as well as answer any questions or concerns you may have.
There is nothing to fear as your therapist will do everything they can to help you feel safe. If a mental disturbance were to come during the therapy process, you both can come up with mental health exercises in advance to calm you like deep breathing, developing a visualization of a calm place, or giving the therapist a signal that you want to stop so that you always know that you are in control of this process.
At the start of your therapy, the therapist will assess whether or not you are a good candidate for EMDR. If it turns out that you are, your therapist may have you draw out a timeline of some of your most traumatic memories. And afterwards, they will ask you to select one of your targeted memories. You will create a vivid mental image about the memory, a negative belief of yourself, and the related emotions that accompany the painful memory.
Once this memory is picked, you will also come up with a positive belief about yourself that will eventually replace come to replace the negative belief.
While you focus on the targeted memory, your therapist will show you stimulation sets like rapid eye movements or auditory tones. After your stimulation set, your therapist will ask you what you are experiencing.
Do not worry if you are still experiencing negative sensations. This can just be the focus of the next set. This process keeps going until you no longer feel anything negative.
This phase involves focusing all of your energy on the positive belief as you continue with the bilateral stimulation. This helps to anchor the new belief and replaces the old negative belief.
When you think of your memory and positive belief, you will continue running through the stimulation sets. This can often be a great relief to know that you are taking control of your anxiety.
The Closing Phases of EMDR
The rest of the EMDR phases involves re-evaluating yourself and making sure the positive beliefs you picked are working for you. If you feel like you need more sessions, your therapist will be there to run you through them again.
Check in with yourself and make sure that this traumatic memory is no longer causing you anxiety. Do a full body scan to see if you are experiencing any shakiness, sweating, stomach aches, heart palpitations, trouble breathing or any other symptoms that you may have experienced before your EMDR treatment. Most often, clients will report a reduction in these type of symptoms in relation to their original target memory as a result of going through EMDR treatment.
If you are still experiencing anxiety as a result of your trauma, it may be time to speak to a mental health counselor about trauma therapy. That way, you can discuss with your therapist about what has been troubling you in order to come up with a solution together.