EMDR THERAPY TO RELEASE TRAUMA
FROM HEALING QUEST SHOW 4 – AIR DATE: 2/5/17
Traumas, either large or small, are likely to touch each of us, they’re just a part of being alive on this planet. But they don’t have to take a heavy toll on us for years, even decades, if we can find a way to process and release those feelings. We talk with Dr. Francine Shapiro who’s developed a technique that’s so successful it’s recommended by the American Psychiatric Association, the U.S. Department of Defense and the World Health Organization.
Trauma is something that’s likely to touch us all, whether it’s a medical issue, a natural disaster, a car accident, the loss of a loved one, a relationship breakup or any of the painful events that happen in day-to-day life.
Trauma means injury to the body, mind or spirit and some people believe that when bad things happen you just deal with it and get on with your life – just buck up, be tough and move on. But unfortunately those painful feelings can be buried deep inside of us and can take a heavy toll on us for years, even decades.
So finding a way to process and release those feelings is very important to our mind/body health. That’s because often we’re not even aware of how much those unprocessed feelings deep inside of us can affect our decisions and actions years later. But if they are processed and released it is possible to emerge from trauma stronger and more resilient.
So that’s why we were happy to spend some time with Dr. Francine Shapiro. She created a a therapy called EMDR that helps people let go of deeply-buried trauma and transform their lives for the better. EMDR is so effective it’s recommended by the American Psychiatric Association, the U.S. Department of Defense and the World Health Organization and it’s being used by psychotherapists all over the world.
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s a way of finding and then releasing the feelings and memories, sometimes dating back to childhood, that are stuck in our body, that still cause us pain and that in some cases are holding us back. Here’s how Dr. Shapiro explained it:
“So many different things,” she said, “that happen automatically, just life, actually are stored in our memory networks. And they can get stored with the emotions and the physical sensations and the beliefs we had at the time. We call them unprocessed memory because the brain hasn't digested them.
“And they can stay that way for the rest of our life and so we go through life feeling, ‘I must be shameful. I must be bad. People don't care about me.’ And then we act in ways that bring that about in our life -- not being able to connect, not feeling good enough to be loved. And again, it's just the way the memory is stored in the brain. So when people come for EMDR therapy we prepare them in a certain way, we find that memory, we access it and then we process it.
The most commonly used EMDR technique involves having the client focus on the therapist’s fingers as they move back and forth across the field of vision. In addition, auditory tones are sometimes, along with tapping or other forms of tactile stimulation.
Rachel Erwin is an expert in EMDR therapy. She said “One of the wonderful things about it
is that you’re able to have people go back to the original memory of the traumatic event. They don't have to tell the story, but can if they want to. It allows people to go back into that moment, that image and then we pull together the cognition the emotion and the sensation that goes along with that moment. That allows the memory to move through the nervous system to completion.”
Francine Shapiro told us EMDR Therapy is designed to free the patient once and for all from the traumatic memories that are stuck inside of them. She said: “The goal in EMDR therapy is to access those memories and to process them, allow them to be digested, and allow the appropriate connections to be made, and then it's gone. You're liberated.”
EMDR is in use around the world. Helene Van Sant-Klein is a therapist in the Sacramento area who uses it. She said: ““When you use the eye movements it will allow the memories to be opened up and processed so that you can have the healthy learning and you let go of any negative beliefs and you develop new beliefs about the trauma. So you still have the memory but it doesn’t have the emotional charge or the negative belief system with it.”
Stacey Calvino came to Helene Van Sant-Klein for help in dealing with the death of her husband.
She said: “There were two aspects: one was wishing I could have done more, which was the first session we worked on. The second was the image, how he looked, and letting go of that. And your question was ‘Do I feel like you I’m past that?’ and the answer is yes.
“I still miss him so it does still bring up emotion but it’s not about those feelings any longer. Oh it absolutely healed those two issues that I had for sure. (Judy) And you said in two sessions? (Stacey) In two sessions, yes.”
EMDR therapy has been mobilized to help treat natural and man-made disasters. Dr. Shapiro said the first major use of it was in 1995 at the Oklahoma City bombing. Dr. Shapiro said: “We got a call from an FBI agent who had had EMDR therapy and was in Oklahoma.
“And he said could we do something because the mental health professionals there were dropping like flies. In other words they were traumatized by what they were hearing and they were also being victimized by this terrible event that had occurred.
“So we flew in clinicians to do an assessment and then we arranged for pro-bono trainings for the clinicians there, and also pro-bono treatment for the frontline providers and for the victims. And we found we were getting about an eighty five percent success rate within three sessions, which was almost identical to a research article that had been published that year.”
After the Oklahoma City experience Dr. Shapiro created the EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Program to provide pro bono treatment in major tragedies. Since then they’ve provided EMDR therapy at almost every major natural and man-made disaster in the U.S., things like Hurricane Katrina, the Boston Marathon bombing and 9/11.
But Dr. Shapiro emphasized that trauma in our lives does not originate only with major accidents or catastrophes. “Research is very clear,” she said. “These negative experiences that happen in childhood can get locked in the brain the same way a major trauma has occurred. And no amount of talking about it is going to get it to shift.
“You can’t just say that I should snap out of it and if I can't snap out of it then there’s something even worse wrong with me and you just end up feeling worse and worse about yourself. When the bottom line is it's a physical problem and if you take the opportunity to go to an EMDR therapist we can identify the memory to the bottom of the problem, prepare you in a certain way and allow it to process so that it’s your own brain doing the healing.”
EMDR is widely available but Francine Shapiro says that if you’re choosing a therapist make sure they were trained in a program authorized by the EMDR National Association in the U.S. She’s also written a book titled “Getting Passed Your Past” to provide self-help techniques like those used EMDR therapy.
She also emphasized that trauma is as much a physical as a psychological problem and needs to be treated that way. She says that when we release the trauma trapped inside of us we emerge stronger and more empowered.
We were also moved by what Dr. Shapiro told us about a rape victim who started the EMDR process with an attitude of “I’m shameful and powerless” and then emerged from it saying “The shame is his, not mine. I’m a strong resilient woman. Look at what I went through.”
It’s a powerful example of someone who used trauma as an opportunity for life-changing opportunity.