NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

EMDR Therapy: When Talk Therapy Isn't Enough

Many people who come to talk therapy with problems find relief and healing by talking to a licensed psychotherapist in either psychodynamic psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT) and other forms of regular talk therapy. They gain insight into their problems and learn to change their thinking and behavior so that they lead happier lives.

EMDR: When Talk Therapy Isn't Enough

However, for many clients in psychotherapy, regular talk therapy only goes so far and it doesn't alleviate their problems. These clients might gain an intellectual understanding of their problems and maybe, if they're in psychodynamic psychotherapy, they even learn to understand the underlying issues that caused the problems in the first place. Under the best of circumstances, they might even be able to make some changes, but the underlying problems remain and continue to get triggered in new situations. In other words, these clients are not really healed. Often this is not a reflection on the psychotherapist's skills or the client's willingness to change. It often has more to do with the limitations of talk therapy with certain problems, especially if there is trauma involved.

What is Trauma?
When we talk about trauma, it's important to know that not all trauma is the same. Like most emotional problems, it's a matter of degree. The various types of trauma are on a large spectrum from smaller trauma to bigger trauma.

Trauma doesn't have to be posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), like when a soldier is traumatized at war or when a client has been raped or sexually abused, to be considered traumatic. Trauma also includes less severe problems like getting into a car accident where you are not hurt physically but afterwards you're too afraid to drive again. Or, maybe you were in an airplane where there was a lot of turbulence and, even though you were not physically injured, you now have a fear of flying.

Another example of a form of trauma that doesn't involve PTSD but which can adversely affect you is if you're too afraid to get involved in romantic relationships because you were so humiliated as a child that you have low self esteem.

What all of these examples of trauma have in common is that they have had a negative impact and have caused impairment to everyday functioning.

When regular talk therapy is not enough, EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing) as well as clinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy) are often much more effective in healing both small and big trauma. In this post I'll focus on EMDR.

What is EMDR Therapy?
In one of my earlier posts, I defined EMDR (see the May 31, 2009 post). To understand EMDR, it's important to know that our experiences are stored in memory networks in our brains. These memory networks are made up of thoughts, images, emotions and body sensations related to each particular experience. As we form new memories, they are organized in related memory networks around the earliest memories.

So, for instance, if a child is bitten by a dog, a memory is formed in his memory network around this experience that would include the bodily sensations of being bitten, the emotional fear, the sound of the dog barking, the image of the dog lunging at him, the image of blood on his leg, the image of his mother yelling at the dog to get away as she came running towards him, and even the scents that were around him.

As he gets older, he might not have a conscious awareness of this memory, especially if he was too young to talk when he was bitten by the dog, but that first memory is still stored in his memory network. When he's older, if he hears a dog barking, it would probably trigger the emotions and sensations associated with that earlier memory, and he would be afraid. Or if he sees a dog, even a friendly one, that earlier memory will be triggered with all of the associated fears. He might not have a conscious memory of that first experience, but as an adult, when he gets triggered by new situations, he would feel an inexplicable fear ("Why am I so afraid of this dog? He's not doing anything to me"). So, even though there might not be an explicit memory of that ealier experience that he can recall, what's actually happening is that the earlier experience gets triggered in his brain and he experiences all of the same fears that he experienced when he was bitten.

In the example above, since the earliest experience has not been processed, it forms a blockage in the memory network so that the traumatic experience remains in the network waiting to be triggered under certain circumstances.

How Does EMDR Help?
EMDR helps clients to process unresolved emotional issues, whether they're related to a single incident or to ongoing problems where emotional needs were not met. A trained EMDR therapist helps clients to process unresolved emotional issues using a method called Bilateral Stimulation (BLS).

EMDR Therapy: When Talk Therapy Isn't Enough

There are several forms of BLS that could involve alternating right-left eye movements, tapping, listening to music using head phones where the sound of the music moves back and forth from the right to left ear, and other methods. When these alternating right-left visual, tactile, or audio techniques are used along with the EMDR protocol, they help clients to process and resolve these experiences on a level that regular talk therapy often cannot do.

EMDR is used all over the world for all types of trauma. It is one of the most researched forms of psychotherapy that has been shown to be effective for many different types of trauma and unresolved emotional issues. Not only is it usually more effective, but it often works faster than traditional psychotherapy.

Getting Help in EMDR Therapy
If you've found that regular talk therapy has not been enough to help you with your problems, you might want to consider EMDR (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

About Me
I'm a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and  EMDR therapist.  

I have helped many clients overcome longstanding emotional issues that did not respond to regular talk therapy using EMDR and clinical hypnosis.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Also, see my article:  EMDR Self Help Book