Keep What You Love, Return the Rest: Healing from Trauma with EMDR Pt. 1
This article presents background information on Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a therapy used to treat survivors of childhood trauma, and those with PTSD.
Part 1: Background on EMDR
I have written several blog posts about getting fired and the consequences it has had for me personally and professionally. It happened just over a year ago on Halloween (a terrible "trick" to be sure) and I still haven't recovered. I've had issues with low self-esteem, shame and a compulsive need to tell everyone what happened. I've actually been in therapy for over 20 years for prolonged childhood trauma; from group therapy to talking it out with highly trained counselors, I have come a long way from the troubled young woman I once was. But I still have issues (don't we all?). Since I arrived in the wonderful world of nursing over 11 years ago, I haven't been able to choose a job that I can seem to keep. I struggle with over-sharing, over-reacting, and I have even been known to throw a few birdies. In addition, I have issues with authority figures, including an underlying assumption that I know best (I'm a team player only when it suits me).
As a professional woman who has a lot to offer, and a patient safety message I really want to get out there - I need to fix these problems. I need to believe I can heal, that I can do better, and that I can learn to respond to challenging situations with equanimity and grace. Finding an evidence-based method that has been shown to be effective in helping others with similar problems will go a long way towards supporting my belief that I can heal. I have been doing some research on what is out there for folks like me who have had repeated childhood trauma. Do some therapies work better than others? Why hasn't talk therapy worked for me? What therapy can I choose that will have the biggest positive impact on my professional and home life? Is it even possible for me to change? Can I keep all the things I love about myself, and get rid of the problems?
I came a across Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) at a camp ground last summer. My 5-year old son, Trenton had fallen and split open his forehead above his eyebrow. Trenton was "bleeding real good", so to speak. He was handling it pretty well, but my other son who "rescued him" (11-year old Brent) was not. Seeing all that blood had thrown him into an all out PTSD flashback. Two summers ago, Brent saw his sister Nicole get kicked in the head by a horse (she is fine, FYI). He was crying and having thoughts of Trenton and Nico dying. His hands were shaking, and he was really embarrassed that Trenton was dealing with the experience "better" than he was. We were camping, and he wanted to have fun, not re-experience a previous trauma. One of my fellow campers, Kelly is a therapist and she offered to do "some EMDR" with Brent. She explained a little bit about EMDR and Brent and I agreed he would try it. Kelly and Brent hung out together for about 20 minutes; he told me Kelly had done "something with his eyes" and that he felt much better. He calmed down and was able to go off and play without the images or the physical sensations bothering him.
EMDR was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s to deal with the stress of traumatic memories. The idea is that EMDR can help with accessing and processing traumatic memories to get an adaptive resolution (that's opposed to the maladaptive solutions I have come up with, which include yelling, flipping people off and massive amounts of eye rolling when I get peeved). EMDR proponents claim physiological arousal is reduced after treatment. According to Dr. Shapiro, the therapist directs a variety of interventions, including lateral eye movements, hand-tapping and audio stimulation to facilitate accessing traumatic memory networks. The eye movements may be associated with REM sleep, acting as a stimulus for changing internal associations. With EMDR treatment, processing is changed and new associations are forged with more adaptive memories or information.
The EMDR International website states more than 30 positive controlled outcome studies have been done showing single trauma victims may get relief after only three, 90 minute sessions. One study showed 77% of veterans were free of PTSD symptoms after 12 sessions. EMDR is recognized by the APA, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense. Over 100,000 clinicians use this therapy. EMDR is also increasingly being used to treat children and adults with childhood trauma.
As with all relatively new treatments, there are criticisms and controversies. EMDR has been shown to be as effective as Cognitive behavioral therapy for PTSD. Though originally developed for PTSD treatment, it is now also used to treat trauma and PTSD in children and adolescents. The American Psychological Association (APA) puts out clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of PTSD, and EMDR is conditionally recommended, whereas Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is strongly recommended. However the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies categorizes EMDR as evidence-based level A. Some researchers believe the eye movement is irrelevant, and that it is the similarities to CBT that make it effective, but EMDR is not like CBT in that there is no detailed description of events, direct challenging of beliefs, extended exposure or homework. There is solid science behind EMDR, as evidenced by a Scientific American article from 2012.
Before signing up for EMDR, I did an interview with my friend Kelly, and you can listen to the podcast of that on iTunes, or watch a video of a mini session on YouTube. I am currently working with a therapist who specializes in EMDR and art therapy. We just had our third session, and still haven't done any of the "eye movement stuff". Rest assured, this is normal for this type of therapy, which has 8 phases (I am in phase 3 - building trust and getting to know your therapist). Part 2 of this article contains more details about the phases of EMDR, how it works, and my experiences in the therapy room, so please come back for more!
Last edit by Joe V on Jun 14, '18
Poll: Which of the following best describes your experience with therapy?
I have never had therapy and never will.
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I have had therapy, but I didn't like it/it didn't work for me.
I have had therapy and it was a good experience/it helped.
I am currently in therapy.
About SafetyNurse1968, PhD, RN
Kristi Miller is a mother of 4, working on her doctorate in nursing. She is obsessed with patient safety and preventing harm.
Joined: Jun '11; Posts: 88; Likes: 236
Nurse Entrepreneur; from NC , US
Specialty: Oncology, Home Health, Patient SafetyNov 15, '17It's an interesting concept and I'm glad you found something that worked for your son, and may help you as well. Good luck making the changes you desire to improve your career outcomes. You're obviously very self-aware and that's an important part of addressing any problem.Nov 17, '17My family has many, many heartbreaks. My daughter will be trying this with her counselor once they build a rapport. I pray that it helps her, because at this point in time, the PTSD seems to take over her in every stressful situation.Nov 17, '17We have to be very careful when we throw around the PTSD diagnosis. While you may have true PTSD from repeated childhood abuse, not every " trauma" results in a real PTSD. We frequently see people who claim a diagnosis of PTSD "because my grandma died last year, and I just can't get over it," or, "My child saw someone get cut, and he will never be the same! Now he has PTSD!"
True PTSD is the result of profound trauma or injury ( for instance, battle, rape, etc.) It is not a catch-all for grief or bad experiences that are a normal part of life. True PTSD is life altering in the extreme and has caused many suicides and other tragic reactions. As you say, treatment is vital, and EMDR has proven helpful for many people. Currently there is a trend to dramatize every life event into a diagnosis, a syndrome, or a disorder. Sometimes it's just life.Nov 18, '17Not that I'm trying to diagnose you, but a lot of what you posted sounds EXACTLY like me, and as someone with Bipolar Disorder II, I think as opposed to PTSD you may have Bipolar Disorder. All of the ways you react to negative stimulus are associated with BPD, as well as your feelings of superiority above others. I do believe you have PTSD from being fired, however, and I have that also from being fired. I wish you the best, and maybe you will bring this up to one of the mental health professionals you see.Nov 22, '17Hello,
First of all, I am so sorry to hear about your daughter's struggles. It is not an easy world to navigate, that is for sure. What important jobs we have as nurses and carers to make the path a little bit easier!
I, too, have experienced many traumas since early childhood (and, possibly even in utero) and can attest to the benefit of EMDR treatment. I am also only recently learning about the intricate topic of Trauma and its' profound life-long effects. I appreciate your comment about PTSD, BillsWife, and if I might share what I have come to know...apparently, PTSD is being defined in two different categories now: 1) PTSD from a traumatic EVENT such as a car accident/rape/war, etc.; however, there is also 2) Complex PTSD which is trauma based, or a result of mulitplpe insidous events/situations or even a combination of one or two traumatic EVENTS along with several other incidents. It is a bit tricky to wrap your head around, at first, because they are both PTSD given that 'trauma is trauma' (whatever shape or form or whether it was experienced once or on a 100 different occasions), and POST traumatic STRESS refers to stress and other symptoms that come post or 'after' a trauma.
Your additional comments about everything being labeled 'PTSD' now makes sense too! It is like depression. Once people started getting used to hearing and talking about depression, it turned out 'every teenage girl bw 12 and 19' had depression over something!Nov 23, '17Quote from EaglesWings21It is heartbreaking when a traumatic event continues to disrupt a life. My mother has had a very difficult time dealing with my trauma. My greatest wish for her is to let go of the guilt she feels for not protecting me. She has tried therapy, but says "it just doesn't work for me". I don't know the details of your story, but I know that taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of your daughter. I hope you are getting the support you need to be there for her. It takes courage to believe healing is possible, and it takes hard work to accomplish the healing. I will be thinking of you and your daughter. I hope you will keep in touch and let me know how she is doing.My family has many, many heartbreaks. My daughter will be trying this with her counselor once they build a rapport. I pray that it helps her, because at this point in time, the PTSD seems to take over her in every stressful situation.Nov 23, '17Quote from billswifebillswife, you are absolutely right about being careful with the diagnosis of PTSD, and I am so glad you brought this up. It is crucial to see a licensed therapist for any issue you are dealing with. A licensed, fully trained, board certified therapist is in the best position to diagnose you and support you on the road to healing. The goal of my article is to make sure nurses know EMDR is an option, so they can share it with anyone who might be dealing with trauma, PTSD or otherwise. I brought up PTSD because EMDR has been shown to be successful in helping those with PTSD deal with trauma. I am looking forward to seeing more research on EMDR with those who have experienced other types of trauma, such as childhood trauma - which as you say, may or may not lead to PTSD.We have to be very careful when we throw around the PTSD diagnosis. While you may have true PTSD from repeated childhood abuse, not every " trauma" results in a real PTSD. We frequently see people who claim a diagnosis of PTSD "because my grandma died last year, and I just can't get over it," or, "My child saw someone get cut, and he will never be the same! Now he has PTSD!"
True PTSD is the result of profound trauma or injury ( for instance, battle, rape, etc.) It is not a catch-all for grief or bad experiences that are a normal part of life. True PTSD is life altering in the extreme and has caused many suicides and other tragic reactions. As you say, treatment is vital, and EMDR has proven helpful for many people. Currently there is a trend to dramatize every life event into a diagnosis, a syndrome, or a disorder. Sometimes it's just life.Nov 23, '17Quote from SuzeySuzey, my therapist and I are working hard to find a solution to my issues. Thank you so much for reading my article and taking the time to comment. Thank you also for being vulnerable enough to share your own struggles - talking about mental health issues helps others know they are not alone.Not that I'm trying to diagnose you, but a lot of what you posted sounds EXACTLY like me, and as someone with Bipolar Disorder II, I think as opposed to PTSD you may have Bipolar Disorder. All of the ways you react to negative stimulus are associated with BPD, as well as your feelings of superiority above others. I do believe you have PTSD from being fired, however, and I have that also from being fired. I wish you the best, and maybe you will bring this up to one of the mental health professionals you see.Nov 23, '17Quote from SherranneThank you Sheranne, for sharing your experience with EMDR! I have met very few other people who have tried it. It is so encouraging to know you had a good experience. I would love to hear more.I, too, have experienced many traumas since early childhood (and, possibly even in utero) and can attest to the benefit of EMDR treatment.Last edit by SafetyNurse1968 on Nov 23, '17 : Reason: Left in a part of the quote I didn't want plus a very large space
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