Woman in black shirt smiling and holding the reigns of a brown horse.

Healing from Trauma Through EMDR

Community News

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful and effective therapy for the treatment of trauma 

EMDR

A traumatic experience or prolonged exposure to trauma can have a profoundly damaging influence on the human mind, with devastating long-term consequences, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Since the 1980s, many therapists treating PTSD have used a method known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to help their clients achieve peace of mind and retrain their stress responses. EMDR is a client-centered clinical approach that focuses on processing distressing memories, incidents, or emotions using carefully directed stimuli.

Marisa Turner, an EMDR Certified Clinician at United Counseling Service (UCS), observes, “Anyone can benefit from this therapy. EMDR is comprised of a very distinct set of procedures and protocols and can be used alongside other modalities of therapy.”

EMDR was developed in 1987 by the psychotherapist Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., and is approved by the American Psychological Association for treating PTSD. According to Shapiro, “…changing memories that form the way we see ourselves also changes the way we view others. Therefore, our relationships, job performance, what we are willing to resist, all move in a positive direction.” The idea is that this form of therapy allows people to heal from emotional distress from traumatic events that were not fully processed.

How does it work?

During EMDR sessions, the therapist works with the client to modify how a traumatic memory is stored. Individuals may have experiences they feel ashamed of, and these are simply memory networks based in trauma. “People often live with shame,” says Lori Vadakin, Director of Outpatient Mental Health Services at UCS. “EMDR works to address the past that is presenting itself, so that we can experience a future of who we want to be.”

Photo: Marisa, A UCS clinician uses tapping as a bilateral stimulation during an EMDR therapy session.

Trained EMDR clinicians use techniques that guide clients to bring attention to a distressing traumatic memory or negative cognition(s) while employing bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation refers to sensory stimuli (such as sounds, tapping, or eye movement) on one side of the body before crossing over to the next, therefore activating both hemispheres of the brain. Throughout the treatment, the client is directed to guide their eye movements in a precise manner, while recalling a specific memory from their traumatic event. The goal of EMDR therapy is to reduce the persisting psychological impacts caused by the traumatic memory through modifying how the memory is stored. During the reprocessing, clinicians guide individuals toward empowering thoughts, so that healing can occur by effectively reframing, both physically and psychologically, the brain’s response to the traumatic memory.

Client Experience

As a result of traumatic experiences in her life, Lori M. suffers from agoraphobia, depression, and panic attacks. In the summer of 2022, she began equine assisted therapy through UCS’ Equine Assisted Therapy program. She attended group therapy and worked with a horse named Sayshoo. In one of her weekly sessions, Lori reported she was not sure where the therapy was headed.  “Why are we doing this? What does this activity have to do with my problems? Little did I know that during the exercises we were doing with our horses and each other, I was actually learning new ways of living and coping with my problems. I was learning to trust other people and let them in and help me.”

Toward the end of the equine therapy sessions, Lori M. worked with UCS’ Lori Vadakin. The therapy session guided her back to a specific traumatic event in her life that changed her forever. The session brought back all the feelings from that event.

Lori M. shared she was “angry, upset, hated my perpetrator, and cried. The clinician then used EMDR techniques. I had to follow her fingers on one hand with my eyes, breathe deeply, hold it for a few seconds, then slowly release my breath. We did this several times and through the session I was able to cry, scream, and say the things I had wanted to yell at my perpetrator—how much I hated him, what he stole from me and more. By the end of the session, I was exhausted. However, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders and my heart and soul. The whole time Sayshoo never left my side.”

Following her sessions, Lori M. shared that “most of my life I did not feel like I belonged, and I was no good. Now I know I do belong, I am loved…and most of all I am a survivor and will continue to get better. I have learned to open my mouth, ask questions, to let others know if I have a problem, instead of stuffing those problems deep down inside of me.”

Statistics:

  • Current and former veterans that experienced combat researched at a Veterans Affairs facility showed a 78% reduction in PTSD symptoms following 12 EMDR sessions. 
  • Kaiser Permanente sponsored research that reported 100% of single-trauma sufferers and 77% of people impacted by multiple traumas show no diagnosable PTSD following six EMDR sessions. 
  • A randomized EMDR study of non-military participants recorded that 90 percent of sexual assault victims experienced PTSD relief following three 1.5-hour sessions. 
  • A study conducted in a transportation department revealed that PTSD due to accidents and assault was relieved by 67% after six EMDR sessions. 

https://www.emdrhap.org/content/about/research-findings/

How to access EMDR at United Counseling Service

UCS offers EMDR and currently has nine certified EMDR clinicians. Prospective clients meet with a licensed clinician through the Finding Access to Services and Treatments (FAST) process and are provided with information about the program and review process. They participate in a review of their mental health concerns, history of treatment, current life situation and supports, and a discussion of their hopes and goals for treatment. Screenings for anxiety, depression, domestic violence, PTSD, dissociation, or social thinking are also undertaken.

 “Everyone has the capacity to heal,” says Keili Trottier, an EMDR Certified Clinician at UCS, “and we are here to help.”

UCS will offer an Intensive EMDR Therapy program in 2023.

United Counseling Service (UCS) is a private, non-profit community mental health center that has been an essential part of Bennington County’s integrated healthcare system since 1958. The organization has been designated as a Center of Excellence by Vermont Care Partners. UCS promotes healthy lifestyles through all its programs and offers care at 15 different facilities, including two primary outpatient facilities in Bennington and Manchester. UCS provides outpatient counseling and addiction services, emergency mental health services, extensive rehabilitation services, home and school-based services, employment services for people recovering from mental illness or with developmental disabilities, and early childhood services.

This article is part of a collaboration produced by members of Vermont Care Partners. Vermont Care Partners is a statewide network of sixteen non-profit, community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use and intellectual and developmental disability support. 

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