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EMDR: An Alternative Trauma Treatment

March 12th, 2015

By Tracie Doherty, JCADA Clinical Intern, & Rahel Schwartz, PhD, LCSW-C, JCADA Clinical Director

As Abby* enters the intake room at JCADA, she makes sure to secure the seat closest to the door. She scans the room and nervously wrings her hands as she assesses the safety of the office. Abby reports that although she left her abusive marriage two years ago, she doesn’t feel like the abuse stopped. She describes the fear that she experiences whenever she smells a man wearing the same aftershave as her ex-husband. When out driving, passing a car with the same make and model as her ex-husband’s instantly brings her back to the times he would erratically drive their car at high speeds though she begged him to stop. Abby started to weep as she confided in her therapist that she did not even feel safe at home. She recounts waking up from nightmares that feel so real that she has to remind herself out loud that she got away before struggling to fall back asleep. As if living with such panic and recurring nightmares isn’t bad enough, she struggles with chronic pain that interferes with her ability to be active. Though she has had some success with therapy before, Abby wonders if she will ever fully recover from the trauma she has experienced.

Abby is representative of many of JCADA’s clients who continue to suffer from the effects of the abuse they endured even years after leaving the relationship. While traditional talk therapy has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing clients’ symptoms, sometimes alternative interventions are necessary. JCADA already offers our clients Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Art Therapy and Biofeedback, but hopes to secure funding for training our clinicians in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). 

EMDR allows traumatic memories to be processed through exercises that engage both sides of the brain. Our memories are linked in networks that contain related thoughts, images, and emotions.1 The goal is for the client to develop a more adaptive set of beliefs, emotions, and physical responses to allow for those traumatic memories to be adequately integrated into other memory networks. 

EMDR has proven to be effective in treating trauma. Leading trauma researcher Bessel Van Der Kolk discussed a study he conducted in which subjects who were treated with EMDRdid substantially better than those given Prozac or a placebo. Furthermore, the EMDR group continued to improve after treatment ended while the group treated with Prozac relapsedwhen they went off of the drug. Clinical researchers also found that EMDR successfully reduces sensitivity to physical pain, a benefit to victims and survivors who experience chronic or intermittently-triggered physical symptoms.2 While there is no miracle cure for reversing the harmful effects of abuse, EMDR is recognized as one of the most effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) developed as a result of trauma experienced as an adult.3 EMDR can be beneficial for both clients who have left an abusive relationship and for those who would like to process past trauma prior to entering into a new relationship. 

As it stands, an estimated 100,000 mental health practitioners have been trained in EMDR since its development in 1989. Due to its success rates, a number of domestic violence and sexual assault organizations have adopted EMDR as one of their preferred methods of intervention. 

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of client. 

1 Grant, M., & Threlfo, C. (2002). EMDR in the treatment of chronic pain. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(12), 1505-1520. 

2 Ibid. 

 3 Van der Kolk, B. A. (1994). The body keeps the score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of posttraumatic stress. Harvard review of psychiatry,1(5), 253-265.

Posted by JCADA | Topic: Clinical

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