Boris Thomas, JD, PhD

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EMDR Therapy

What is EMDR Therapy? | FAQ

To begin your understanding of EMDR and why it may be helpful to you, take a moment to look at the videos and other information provided on the EMDRIA (EMDR International Association) site.

As the EMDRIA site indicates, EMDR can be used to treat a variety of conditions and symptoms, including but not limited to panic attacks, depression, phobias, performance anxiety, complicated grief, dissociative disorders and the symptoms associated with sexual and/or physical abuse. 

An EMDR Vignette & Some Education About Trauma

You and I are sitting together with our friend Ellis.  We are in your living room, safe and comfortable, having a nice conversation.  A passing car’s muffler pops, the sound booming through the room, and Ellis suddenly ceases to be present in our conversation.  What happened?

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background  . . .

Ellis was a soldier during the Gulf War who returned home after a tank he was in was shelled, killing his platoon buddies.  Ellis was the only one who survived, but he was badly injured.  He tried to help, dragging two soldiers out of the tank and to a ditch, where they waited.  Unfortunately, by the time help came, his friends had expired. 

He feels there must have been something he could have done to prevent his friends' deaths, and ever since that event, he has the belief, “I am weak.”  Ellis has taken that belief into many aspects of his current life, including his job, where he often feels he cannot effect change or otherwise accomplish his work goals. 

Where did Ellis go when the muffler popped?  He went right back to that tank.  Although physically sitting in the room with him, we had dropped out of Ellis’s awareness.  He was reliving the horrors of that experience and was disconnected from his present reality in which he was safe and among friends.  The problem with traumatic events is that they get held in their archaic form with all of the original sensory information (sounds, smells, sights, etc.), as if time had stopped with the traumatic occurrence.

When reliving prior traumatic events, the past and present occur simultaneously, which often keeps survivors of trauma from being fully present.

Most of us can agree that we want to put bad things behind us and move toward a better future.  Unfortunately, experiences (such as the muffler popping) that trigger the re-experiencing of a trauma have the effect of compressing time:  The past and present occur simultaneously, which often keeps survivors of trauma from being fully present.

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Trauma also generates negative cognitions (thoughts) that frequently are distortions of the truth/reality.  Contrary to Ellis’s belief that he could somehow have prevented his friends’ deaths, the reality is that there was nothing Ellis could have done.  The mission with which his platoon had been tasked had a very high likelihood of failure.  And, Ellis’s heroic attempt at saving the lives of several of his buddies while seriously injured himself indicate that he was anything but weak. 

So, what happens in EMDR treatment?

The goal of EMDR trauma treatment is not to wipe out the memory of the traumatic event, but rather to reduce the level of disturbance associated with it, to mobilize the individual’s ability (and desire) to heal, and to correct and overcome negative cognitions.  Through the use of the EMDR treatment protocol, the EMDR clinician gradually takes the trauma survivor through a process that effects those outcomes. 

The problem with traumatic events is that they get held in their archaic form – as if time had stopped with the traumatic occurrence.

For Ellis, the treatment goals would be to reduce the likelihood that current day events would trigger his re-experiencing of the tank being shelled in its archaic form, to lessen the intensity of his memory of the event, and to correct the negative cognitions that are affecting him in his present-day work life.  

Ellis will never forget that terrible event in his life.  But, instead of leaving the present and disappearing into the past trauma when reminded of it, Ellis will feel sadness and loss, but will be able to stay grounded in the present while recounting what happened.   

What I find with EMDR treatment is that it also has a globalizing effect.  Reducing the disturbance associated with a specific past trauma frequently has a collateral benefit of reducing the level of upset associated with present day life.  Many report that months after completing EMDR treatment for a specific traumatic event that occurred in the past, they are surprised to find that interactions in situations (seemingly unrelated to the trauma) that previously were stressful or overwhelming to them, cease to be bothersome. 

How do I practice EMDR?

I believe that EMDR, like other interventions that integrate mind and body, is a powerful tool to be used within the larger frame of a dynamic therapy where there are multiple opportunities for exploration, support and growth. 

What does it mean to be certified in EMDR? 

A clinician who is certified by the EMDR International Association has been licensed or certified in their mental health professional field for independent practice and has had a minimum of two years experience in that field. They have completed an EMDRIA approved training program in EMDR therapy, have conducted a minimum of fifty clinical sessions in which EMDR was utilized, and have received twenty hours of consultation in EMDR by an Approved Consultant. In addition they must complete twelve hours of continuing education in EMDR every two years.  

My path to becoming certified in EMDR -- and my ongoing practice of EMDR therapy -- are deeply gratifying as I see the clients with whom I've had the pleasure of working move past experiences that previously had held them captive.

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