How Does “EMDR” Therapy Help First Responders With PTSD?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of psychotherapy that is used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People suffering from PTSD find it difficult to process thoughts, negative memories, or upsetting feelings that are related to the trauma they suffered. EMDR treatment helps individuals effectively process these types of experiences in order to heal and achieve symptom relief. People suffering from PTSD struggle to make sense of their experiences, but EMDR was developed to help them heal from traumas they may never fully understand.

What Is PTSD?

 According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.” This disorder affects about 3.5% adults in the United States. People who suffer from PTSD often experience traumatic feelings and flashbacks of the traumatic event long after it occurred. Sufferers are vulnerable to triggers of the event and may experience panic, fear, despair, or anger after hearing a startling noise, or other reminder. This condition causes individuals to become detached from others and often leads them to avoid people or many types of situations.

How Does EMDR Work?

A therapist who delivers EMDR treatment will employ a hand motion to guide the client’s eye movements from side to side. During this guided movement, likened to the swinging of a pendulum, the individual will focus their eyes on the movement while recalling the memories that caused the trauma. The goal of these guided sessions is to help the sufferer remember events without the same high level of distress. While this treatment may not work for everyone, it has had a measure of success in helping patients suffering from PTSD.

How Long Does EMDR Treatment Last?

An individual EMDR treatment session tends to last for about an hour but can go for as long as 90 minutes. Many therapists recommend that patients undergo this treatment anywhere from a month to three months. Before the initial session, the therapist will discuss the goal of the treatment and how it works. Patients will not be expected to bring home “homework” or be required to discuss the trauma.

What Are the Effects of This Treatment?

Some people will begin to notice positive changes in themselves after a few sessions, but others may take longer to notice improvements. Some people may not find this therapy effective. During treatment sessions, the therapist may or may not invite the client to discuss what’s on their mind, patients will simply be asked to recall aspects of their traumatic experience(s). It’s not uncommon for people to feel intense discomfort, especially early on in treatment. In time, as thoughts and memories are processed, the individual will feel less anxiety and panic when recalling events.

How Is EMDR Different from Other Forms of Psychotherapy?

EMDR is different than other types of psychotherapy that typically have a goal of altering the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and responses to the triggering event. EMDR has a goal to change where the traumatic memory is stored in the brain. That’s decidedly different from other PTSD treatments. Many therapists believe that this change in where the memory is stored can lead to reduced symptoms of the disorder.

If you are suffering from PTSD, EMDR treatment may be the key to your recovery.

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