Terri K. Lankford, LPCS
Just Go With That… What can EMDR therapy help with & who’s it for??
EMDR is most known and widely researched to treat PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) - and for good reason! This approach has been particularly effective in recovering from PTSD. Over thirty studies show between 84% and 90% of individuals with a single experience of trauma recover from PTSD after undergoing EMDR while 77% of those with more than one trauma experience are able to recover from PTSD after treatment. EMDR also works quickly with many individuals feeling relieved of their PTSD symptoms after six to eight 90 minute sessions. Today, EMDR is one of the top recommended approaches for individuals struggling with trauma.
But EMDR is a growing approach and isn’t just for PTSD treatment!
Other areas in which EMDR has been found to help are with those struggling with
Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias
Chronic Illness and medical issues
Depression and bipolar disorders
Grief and loss
PTSD but also and other trauma and stress-related issues
Substance abuse and addiction
Violence and abuse
EMDR also supports helping address challenges such as:
Lack of Motivation
Fear of Being Alone
Unrealistic Feelings of Guilt and Shame
Difficulty in Trusting Others
Performance and Test Anxiety
Brooding or Worrying
And other experiences sometimes not considered as trauma like:
Loss of a loved one
Injury of a loved one
Witness to Violence
Childhood Abuse and/or Trauma
Victims of Violent Crimes
Here's the thing: you may be thinking, “but I don’t have any trauma! Why would I consider EMDR?” Or why would my therapist suggest using this model of therapy?
A lot of people assume that to have experienced trauma is to have experienced the stereotypical events that describes more dramatic types of trauma: violence, war, murder, rape, robbery, and recurrent sexual or physical abuse. Often this is referred to as "Big T" trauma and it is usually either a single-incident trauma of vast proportions or something society believes is big – like recurrent sexual or physical abuse. It’s something that’s noticeable; sometimes you read about it in the paper.
However, everyone has experienced what's often called "Little t" trauma, or adverse life events. These events tend to be overlooked by the individual who have experienced the difficulty. This is sometimes due to the tendency to rationalize the experience as common and therefore cognitively shame oneself for any reaction that could be construed as an overreaction or being “dramatic.” Other times, the individual does not recognize just how disturbed they are by the event or situation.
Perhaps surprisingly, sometimes these events are also overlooked or dismissed by a therapist. This usually doesn't happen due to the therapist lacking empathy, but rather it occurs due to a lack of understanding about the importance of how these experiences impact a person’s functioning.
Examples of less visible forms of trauma that happen are: non-life-threatening injuries, emotional abuse, death of a pet, bullying or harassment, loss of significant relationships, grief, postpartum depression, anxiety, embarrassment, betrayal, insecure attachment, childhood emotional neglect (often non-intentional) when a parent wasn’t emotionally available, racial or ethnic discrimination, verbal abuse, cyberbullying, surviving divorce, experiencing a medical crisis, spiritual abuse, emotional blackmail, and various other experiences.
You can’t necessarily “see” the bruises, but these things are just as damaging your Big T trauma. They typically happen over the longer term—and they add up! These traumas occur at high rates and often are compounded by their accumulated effect. While one small ‘t’ trauma may not lead to significant distress, multiple compounded small ‘t’ traumas, particularly in a short span of time and/or occurring during developmental years, are more likely to lead to an increase in distress and trouble with emotional functioning. These traumas may have occurred over the course of one’s life or condensed in the recent past.
Evidence now concludes that repeated exposure to little “t” traumas can cause more emotional harm than exposure to a single big “T” traumatic event. In fact, it is likely that the reason many individuals present for psychotherapy is due to an accumulation of small ‘t’ traumas. Lets go back to our first EMDR blog in this series where we mentioned limiting beliefs that may be keeping us stuck or repeating our same patterns over and over again. This is otherwise known as the, “I know, BUT …” response when we are doing something and/or having reactions although we know it doesn’t make sense or might just be plain wrong. These are just a few of the examples of how little “t” traumas present themselves in our day to day lives.
Also it shouldn’t be left unsaid, understand there is no such thing as “Little Trauma”. Trauma is a fundamental feeling of threat. It’s a perceived lack of safety. It’s different for everyone. When it comes to trauma, size DOES NOT matter. Trauma is more about the impact than the cause; it’s about how the trauma is “remembered” in the body. It is not up to us to judge, quantify, or size up the impact of someone’s trauma. The only person who can do that is the person who feels it.
As we leave you pondering how you may fall into EMDR work and the last few posts about how great EMDR is, we know it isn’t all rose colored glasses. Join us for our last post in this series on Moving through the Muck & Facing your Fears with EMDR.