Post-traumatic stress disorder often kills lives without killing the body. It’s one of the things that leave people devastated in its wake, bringing its victims into a lifelong descent to the endless, soul-piercing chasm of horror by the past that brought them there. You could, perhaps, say that someone going through PTSD has never really, truly, returned. That if they have ever come back, the past eats them up even though it was never their fault in the first place. They have become victims, both in mind and in body, and prisoners to their own traumatic experiences.

Unlike the physically dead, however, we can still bring them back to us. Return them to society. Bring them back to their loved ones. Yes, the process may take a long time, but we can bring them back, nonetheless. However, bringing them back does take a significant amount of resources and tools.

One of these tools includes eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. While the name mentions the eyes, the theory behind it goes much deeper. It began with Francine Shapiro, who developed it in 1987 to help patients who suffered from acute and post-traumatic stress. Today, mental healthcare providers use her work alongside various other techniques, increasing the efficacy of treatment combinations and the chances of bringing someone back from the trauma in their lives.

Learning How to Face the Past

The core principle behind EMDR therapy is that people need to face their past to bring themselves back to the present. By exposing them to the pain or desensitization, they can better navigate across their past experiences and eventually find their closure. However, getting them used to the pain is the hard part.

When someone has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they have experienced something that they will never want to witness ever again. They may run away, hoping that the nightmares would end, yet haunting them in every single moment of their lives. A single detail could bring them back to the past, reliving it all as if they were still there and that they have never left. They may fight and push it down to a little corner in their minds as if it were a file in a full cabinet that they would rather hide. Yet it all comes back, overwhelming them and pushing back with everything they have.

The point of EMDR therapy is to help the patient sort through each memory by making a safe space to open one part of it at a time. It involves careful searching, making sure that the patient stays calm during the ordeal, and letting them back down before the memories begin to tumble back and overwhelm once more.

And what do the eyes have to do with this? Before Francine Shapiro made EMDR, she realized that moving the eyes in a side-to-side motion helped keep patients from thinking too deeply and getting overwhelmed as they do. It’s mainly distracting, yet it’s so easy to do. Armed with the proper psychotherapeutic techniques, a practitioner can then guide them through safely. But nowadays, EMDR can be done even without the eye movement part. The avalanche of emotional pain can be avoided in other ways.

Embracing It All

Being based on the theories under cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), EMDR can be used to increase the efficacy of various modern techniques. But in the end, no matter which technique is used, the end result should be the same. Anyone undergoing any treatment should reach their closure and find their peace.

In EMDR, each session goes through eight phases. They cover a specific part of the traumatic memory, sorting through and healing until all of it has been released. The eight phases are:

  • Phase 1: History and treatment planning
  • Phase 2: Preparation
  • Phase 3: Assessment (of traumatic experience)
  • Phase 4: Desensitization (or getting used to the painful memories)
  • Phase 5: Installation (of stronger thoughts to help you manage them)
  • Phase 6: Body Scan (or learning how your body reacts to your memories)
  • Phase 7: Closure
  • Phase 8: Evaluation

Every session ends with an evaluation of the patient while looking through the current session’s progress. It also gives the patient the confidence that they can eventually beat the trauma. After all, this is a fight that they need to win, and they can’t win if they don’t face it.

And what makes this better compared to other techniques is that EMDR has barely any side effects. While psychiatric medicine is much easier to use, they also come with so many side effects that psychiatric cocktails of medicine that counter each other’s side effects tend to cost much more.

Healing Takes Time and Patience

As with most wounds, it takes some time to heal a bleeding soul. Unlike physical wounds, however, it takes a different kind of surgeon to fix everything. EMDR may not be a one-size-fits-all approach to resolving traumatic experiences, but it does help a patient get better.

For a patient with PTSD, they need time to sort through and accept their situation. They need to understand what happened, how it happened, the tons of whys, and the fact that they may never know all of it at all. On their own, they question the causes of the events, seeking answers that may never come. In the office, they will still do the same. But the point of therapy is not to answer these questions. The true point of therapy is to help them accept the reality that they may never find the answers, yet they may still live their lives in full with the help of acceptance.

And outside of therapy, they will need the patience of their own support group. These people will need to understand that their loved ones will come back in due time, but slowly. Their loving arms give the patient the strength to push through each memory as they relive the trauma and systematically accept their pasts.

Like all the other psychotherapeutic techniques in every practitioner’s arsenal, EMDR can only work if the patient wills themselves to. It is like a machine, doubling their capacity to carry on using the little power that their traumatic experiences have left them.

If you find yourself in a situation in which you know someone who would need this, please do:

  • Offer a lending ear.
  • Acknowledge that they are emotionally hurt.
  • Provide a watchful eye, in case they may physically hurt themselves.
  • Help them find a professional who could assist them.
  • Give them the time to process their feelings.
  • And lastly, share with them your love as a family, friend, or partner.

While EMDR therapy can help a patient through it all, the first few sessions may be exceptionally painful. Sure, it gets better as the patient heals over time. Without the support of someone they can trust, the patient may not even want to start a session at all. Ideally, somebody should accompany them on their first session.

And if you do need someone to help, you can visit us at our website to see a list of our trained therapists who can use EMDR to help patients with PTSD.

Unlike the physically dead, however, we can still bring them back to us. Return them to society. Bring them back to their loved ones. Yes, the process may take a long time, but we can bring them back, nonetheless.

By Stenzel Clinical Services, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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