EMDR

Tacoma EMDR Therapist Dr. Maxwell Knauss at Allenmore Counseling Performing EMDRAllenmore Psychological Associates (APA) has been providing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in Tacoma, Washington since 1993. Several of our therapists were trained in EMDR therapy shortly after it was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro. In 1989, Dr. Shapiro made a chance discovery that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing emotions and experiences. Based upon this discovery, she went on to develop a systematic treatment approach for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her initial research on EMDR yielded positive results and encouraged a large amount of additional research. To date, over 20 controlled studies have investigated EMDR and have demonstrated the effectiveness of EMDR therapy in reducing or eliminating the symptoms of PTSD. EMDR has been recognized as an effective, research-based treatment for PTSD by the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and several other professional and governmental organizations located throughout the world. This parallels our personal experiences while providing EMDR treatment to hundreds of patients over the past 20 years. As EMDR therapists, we have been consistently impressed with the powerful impact that EMDR treatment has for our patients suffering from PTSD and a range of other mental disorders.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a comprehensive and systematic treatment approach developed to reduce, and hopefully even eliminate, the symptoms of PTSD and related traumatic disorders. This treatment approach is based upon a structured treatment protocol that begins with the therapist taking a thorough history. This process allows the EMDR EMDR Therapy Seattle Area Word Cloudtherapist and patient to collaboratively develop a sequential list of the traumatic memories and experiences that will be targeted during the desensitization phase of treatment. The EMDR therapist then completes preparatory work with the patient which helps develop the coping, relaxation, and other skills that are critical to their success in treatment. Once this is accomplished, the therapist assesses a specific memory that has been selected for desensitization and reprocessing. This assessment involves identifying the images, emotions, feelings, and location of the bodily sensations associated with that memory. It also entails parsing out the negative belief that is connected to the traumatic event, as well as the positive alternative belief that the patient would like to take its place.

The EMDR therapist then begins the desensitization phase of treatment by asking the patient to bring to mind all details of the traumatic event. While the patient holds those details in their mind, the therapist simultaneously guides the patient in side-to-side eye movements. The patient is asked to notice what, if any, changes they experience in relation to the traumatic memory, without any deliberate effort to direct or control it. Periodically the therapist stops the eye movements and asks the patient to report what he or she is experiencing. With successive sets of eye movements the memory becomes progressively less disturbing, EMDR Treatment for Combat Trauma PTSD Uniformed Soldierand typically arrives at the point that it is no longer distressing at all to the patient. At this point in the process, the patient’s beliefs about themselves and the meaning of the traumatic event have generally shifted in a positive direction. These new, more positive, beliefs are then further strengthened and associated with the memory, until these beliefs are experienced as real and valid by the patient. When the patient returns for their next EMDR treatment session, the traumatic memory is reevaluated to insure that the previous EMDR therapy has “held.” As EMDR therapists, we find that when processing has been thoroughly completed, and the new positive memory properly installed, the positive changes noted by the client are permanently sustained. At this point we are ready to progress to focusing on ways that the positive beliefs and other changes can be applied to current life events or anticipated future challenges. If the patient has more than one traumatic event for which they are seeking EMDR treatment, the EMDR therapist then assesses the next target memory and facilitates the same treatment process in relation to it.

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR therapy appears to have a powerful impact on the manner in which the brain processes information. Traumatic events have the effect of stalling the brain’s natural information processing. As a result, the upsetting memories of these events become “stuck in time”. Through ongoing research we now know that there are key differences between this and our brain’s more typical method of fully processing events and then storing them in our long-term memory. Because they are not processed in our brain’s normal adaptive manner, these events become suspended as memories in a dysfunctional state from which they can easily be triggered and re-experienced. This gives rise to the intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks related to the traumatic event that are commonly experienced by individuals suffering from PTSD. EMDR therapy seems to get the brain “unstuck”, which then enables it Eye with EMDR Finger Reflection for EMDR Tacoma WAto process the traumatic memory to an effective resolution. Following successful EMDR treatment, the memory no longer has the “emotional punch” that it did before treatment, and is instead experienced on a “gut level” as being finished and in the past.

We don’t know with complete certainty how any form of counseling or psychotherapy works within the brain. It has been speculated that EMDR treatment facilitates a process similar to the one which occurs during the rapid eye movement (or REM) stage of sleep. The REM stage of sleep appears to play a significant role in our ability to process the previous day’s emotionally laden events, and in particular our capacity for integrating the useful information from those events into our long term memory. It is also possible that EMDR achieves its therapeutic results by helping different parts of our brains, such as our left and right cerebral hemispheres, function together in a more cooperative manner which allows for the successful processing of traumatic memories. Another mechanism of action that seems to be at work during EMDR treatment is that the bilateral stimulation of the eye movements (or alternating sounds or “taps”) often produces a relaxation response within the body. For some patients this relaxation response can be quite profound. This is obviously very helpful in allowing individuals to face, and ultimately become desensitized to, memories that have previously been overwhelming and terrorizing for them. Perhaps due to a combination of these different brain level changes, patients who undergo EMDR treatment come to see themselves and past events in a completely new and more positive light. Investigators around the world are conducting ongoing research to better understand what makes EMDR so effective, and how it specifically alters our brain’s information processing.

How EMDR Helped One of Our Patients Overcome a Trauma:

Over the past twenty years our EMDR trained therapists have had the privilege of providing EMDR therapy to individuals residing in Tacoma and others who have traveled from many locations between Seattle and Olympia. Several of these courageous men and women have sought our help in gaining relief from persistent distress related to having been the victim of a violent crime. To illustrate the therapeutic impact that EMDR treatment can have for individuals experiencing posttraumatic symptoms, we will share the experience of one of our patients. (The patient’s name, identifying information, and details of the crime have been altered to protect confidentiality.)

Our patient Ben was 42 years old at the time that we treated him, and was married with two young children. He was a small business owner, running his own convenience store in an urban neighborhood located in the South Puget Sound. One night Ben was working alone in his store when two masked men entered and robbed him at gunpoint. While they did not injure him physically, the robbers treated Ben in a terrorizing manner, threatening his life on multiple occasions. In the aftermath of the robbery Man with Head In Hands Suffering Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing TherapyBen continued to work in his store, and never considered taking time off because the income from his business was the sole financial support for his family. While he felt numb and emotionally shutdown, Ben pushed himself to go to work every day to take care of those who were depending on him.

Ben continued to “power through” his life and work in this manner for six months. Then one day, there was a high profile crime in a neighboring city that involved the death of an employee in their workplace. Once Ben learned of this tragedy, he began experiencing intrusive thoughts and flashbacks to the robbery in his own store. These symptoms were soon accompanied by nightmares and intense anxiety attacks. Ben visited his family doctor, who prescribed a medication to help with these symptoms. Nevertheless, these symptoms continued escalating in severity until reaching the point that Ben could no longer enter in his store and go to work. The magnitude of these traumatic symptoms had truly become disabling and they now directly threatened Ben’s ability to continue providing for his family.

At this point, Ben’s family doctor referred him to APA for help overcoming the distressing symptoms of his traumatic experience. Upon entering treatment at APA we did a thorough assessment with Ben, which included obtaining a complete history and a detailed description of the violent crime he experienced. Ben’s history revealed no prior traumas contributing to his symptoms. Ben also completed psychological assessment instruments that contributed to our understanding of his traumatic reactions. Based upon all the information available, Ben was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and EMDR treatment was recommended. The initial “preparation” phase of treatment involved teaching Ben a number of skills that help people to remain relaxed and “in control” while processing upsetting events. Once this was completed, Ben’s memory of the robbery was assessed. We systematically identified aspects of the distressing memory to target with EMDR therapy. We then began bilateral stimulation with eye movements. At the end of the first desensitization and EMDR Therapy Seattle Story Robberreprocessing session, Ben reported that he felt significantly calmer and that the robbery felt more distant instead of “in his face”. When he was seen for his next appointment, Ben excitedly reported that he had continued to feel much less anxious, and had had even had three full nights of sleep with no nightmares.

We continued to work with Ben through two more desensitization and reprocessing sessions utilizing bilateral stimulation. At the end of the third desensitization and reprocessing session, Ben could bring up the memory of the robbery and experienced no distress related to it. It was clear that even he was amazed by his progress. We then began to pair the new positive belief Ben wanted to have about himself in relation to the past traumatic event, and helped him prepare to cope with anticipated future challenges. Once we had done so Ben reported an absence of all prior PTSD symptoms, and he was able to successfully to return to work fulltime with no distress related to the robbery. We had one follow-up appointment with Ben, and mutually concluded that he was ready to terminate his EMDR treatment. We encouraged Ben to contact us if any help was needed in the future, but further treatment was never required. Upon finishing treatment Ben told his therapist, with tears in his eyes, “EMDR made all the difference. The help that I got from EMDR helped put the robbery in the past and gave me back my life.”

Ben was seen for a total of seven sessions at APA. EMDR treatment, as with all counseling and therapy services provided at APA, is tailored to the individual. As a result, the length of EMDR therapy will vary from one individual to another. The length of Ben’s treatment was representative of what we typical see at APA when treating individuals with single incident traumas who have no co-existing issues to work on in therapy. For individuals with co-exiting issues such as depression, bipolar disorder or addictions, or multiple traumas, and especially those related to early childhood events, longer-term treatment is typically required.

Can EMDR Treatment Help with Other Issues besides PTSD?

Controlled research has established that EMDR is an effective treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder. In addition, single case studies and anecdotal reports from EMDR therapists have suggested that EMDR may be helpful for a variety of other issues and conditions, including:

  • Chronic medical EMDR Books for Therapy Tacoma WAproblems
  • Complicated grief reactions
  • Alcohol and drug addiction
  • Eating disorders
  • Headaches
  • Compulsive sexual behavior and problems with pornography
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Chronic pain syndromes
  • Executive and athletic performance
  • Childhood emotional, physical, and sexual abuse
  • Anxiety disorders such as panic disorder and OCD

Learn More About EMDR Treatment at APA

To learn more about the EMDR Treatment process, please see our Resources Section for recommended books, links to helpful websites, and various other resources. To receive a free Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing International Association (EMDRIA) brochure that provides basic information about EMDR, or focuses on the use of EMDR when treating Children, please call our office at (253) 752-7320. If you are interested in working with one of our counselors on overcoming PTSD – or other trauma related emotional problems – you can also call this number to schedule an initial session. We currently have four counselors at Allenmore Psychological Associates who provide EMDR therapy to individuals residing in the greater Tacoma area (to view their profiles, simply click on their names below):

Brett Copeland, Psy.D.

Philip J. Frank, Ph.D.

Paul A. Nelson, Ph.D. 

Bonny Snyder, MA, LMHC