Why EMDR is a Helpful Treatment for Sexual Abuse Survivors

In the United States, one in three women and one in six men will experience some form of sexual abuse in their lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). When sexual abuse happens, many people don’t know how to cope with what happened. Many struggle to express their feelings in a healthy way. The result is feelings fear and shame.

This is why so many people never share their story. The problem is, when you experience something as devastating as sexual abuse, it changes how you feel about yourself and others. Over time, people often develop depression and anxiety. NSVRC reports that 81% of female victims and 35% of male victims will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The more you hold it in, the more shame and despair can grow inside you.

What is EMDR and How Can it Help?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a psychotherapy technique that has been successfully used to treat people who suffer from panic attacks, anxiety, PTSD, and other emotional issues. Before EMDR, these issues would be treated through cognitive behavioral therapy alone. While this treatment can be successful, it often takes many, many sessions for maximum relief.

EMDR, on the other hand, has been considered a breakthrough modality because it can bring quick and lasting relief from a variety of emotional distress. Even better, EMDR does not require you to hash through all of the details of your abuse out loud. Instead, it works from the “inside – out”. Instead of using words, EMDR uses your brain’s natural processing systems to 1) turn down the volume of your distress, 2) helps you make new connections so you can get “unstuck”, and 3) helps you believe something positive about yourself again.

When we experience trauma, such as sexual abuse, our brain becomes overwhelmed. We experience the symptoms of anxiety, shame, depression, and PTSD. Through EMDR therapy, people can process a trauma until it is no longer disturbing to them or disruptive to their lives.

What is a Typical EMDR Therapy Session Like?

While your EMDR therapy session might involve several familiar pieces of traditional talk therapy, it also focuses on some unique techniques. EMDR is actually an 8 stage process. But when most people refer to EMDR, they think of the desensitization stage. This is where a traumatic memory is “reprocessed” and healed. In these sessions, the therapist will engage the client in what we call “bilateral stimulation”.

Don’t worry. There’s no hypnosis, shocks, or anything else going on. While the speed of recovery can sometimes feel like magic, there is real science behind EMDR. For instance, we know from research that when you get your brain’s attention left – right, left – right, left – right, it starts a healing and learning process. Basically, it gets your neurons firing up so that new connections can be made. This is how EMDR is so effective at getting you unstuck.

So, a desensitization session will have you focus on different aspects of the traumatic memory while getting your brain’s attention right – left, right – left. We do this by using eye movements or headphones that sound a tone back and forth in each ear or little buzzers that vibrate in your hands back and forth.

It is believed that EMDR fundamentally “rewires” the brain, similar to what happens during REM sleep. So now, instead of a traumatic memory instantly causing emotional and physical distress, it is linked to a larger context of your own life experiences. EMDR helps put the trauma into a better perspective and allows you to access your body’s natural coping strategies.

But EMDR is more than a set of techniques. It is a way for all people to understand their own human potential. Beyond the reprocessing of traumatic events, EMDR also allows individuals a glimpse of any limiting false beliefs they may be holding onto, such as “I’m not good enough.”

In this way the therapy not only helps people move through big, traumatic events in their past but also smaller chronic ones that color their perception of themselves their world. This can ultimately lead to real positive change in their lives.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual abuse and is interested in exploring EMDR treatment, please be in touch. We would be happy to discuss how this technique may be able to help you.

Sources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/somatic-psychology/201303/trauma-childhood-sexual-abuse

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/complex-trauma-emdr-can-help-but-its-no-quick-fix-0425165

https://www.emdrhap.org/content/what-is-emdr/

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