Getting Past Your Past Trauma With EMDR Therapy

The following article was published in Midweek, Honolulu, “Doctor in the House,” Page 33, September 28, 2016.

Getting Past Your Past Trauma With EMDR Therapy

Dr. Terence C. Wade and Darlene K. Wade, LCSW, are therapists, consultants and trainers at EMDR Hawaii in Honolulu.

Where did you receive your schooling/training?

Terry: I received a BA in psychology from Stanford and a Ph.D. from the University of Utah. I completed an NIMH Internship in Hawaii and have practiced here since 1977.

Darlene: I worked as a special education teacher in Honolulu before I got my MSW from the University of Hawaii in 1991. We both treat adults who are victims of trauma or suffer from addictions, anxiety, depression or relationship problems. Terry also conducts evaluations for legal purposes, and I also treat adolescents and children.

What is EMDR Therapy?

Terry: EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is based on an adaptive information processing model, which proposes that our brains normally process information to adaptive resolutions.

However, exposure to traumatic events often disrupts normal processing. When traumatized people remember the events that traumatized them, or they are exposed to situations that are similar or symbolize them, they feel the same disturbing emotions and body sensations they did when the traumatic events occurred because their brains react in exactly the same way.

EMDR Therapy enables the disrupted processing to resume and complete, so the outcome feels like any other experiences people have had. Memories of normal experiences usually have no emotional or physical effects, or you feel appropriately sad, guilty, fearful and so on.

Most people think of EMDR Therapy as eye movements. But EMDR Therapy has eight phases, beginning with history taking, preparation and assessment, which may take quite some time. We want to be certain people are able to function during the course of treatment by containing disturbing emotions and body sensations, imagine themselves in a calm, safe place, and relax physically. Then we develop a treatment plan with the person in which we choose what to work on. The eye movements aren’t used until the fourth phase, when traumatic memories are reprocessed to adaptive resolution.

The initial goals of EMDR Therapy are to completely eliminate all disturbing emotions and body sensations that are part of traumatic memories (rather than simply reduce symptoms to more tolerable levels or teach people how to manage symptoms, which is all other therapies can do).

However, EMDR Therapy has three prongs: past, present and future. Treatment not only resolves past trauma, but also eliminates present triggers and develops future skills and abilities for getting the life you want once the effects of trauma are resolved and eliminated. Just because someone no longer gets upset about what happened to them and they aren’t triggered by present situations, that doesn’t mean they are able to function at their best and accomplish what they want. EMDR Therapy isn’t complete until that is addressed, too.

EMDR Therapy is not a talk therapy in the usual sense. The history taking, preparation and assessment phases involve talking with clients. But talking is minimal when eye movements are used in the reprocessing phase and when we develop resources that enable people to become more effective in the future.

Who is a candidate for EMDR Therapy?

Darlene: EMDR Therapy is used to treat a variety of psychological conditions in addition to trauma, including addictions, phobias, anxiety, depression and relationship problems. It is even used in optimal performance training. EMDR Therapy is effective for all ages, from very young children to senior citizens, and people don’t need to disclose all the details of their traumatic experiences.

EMDR Therapy has been designated as an effective treatment by the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the American Psychiatric Association, among others.

EMDR Therapy practitioners are licensed mental health professionals who are located throughout Oahu and the neighbor islands.

How long does EMDR Therapy take?

Darlene: If a person has only experienced one recent traumatic event, treatment with EMDR Therapy is typically brief. However, treatment will take longer the more traumas a person experienced, the earlier they occurred, and the more complex they are. The fist concerns are always safety, stability and support.

When did you receive your training in EMDR Therapy?

Darlene: EMDR Therapy was discovered in 1987 by psychologist Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. We began our training with Dr. Shapiro in 1991 and became facilitators soon after that when we founded EMDR Hawaii. We are charter members of the EMDR International Association, and we are certified therapists and consultants. We regularly attend EMDRIA annual conferences, and we bring EMDR Institute trainers to Hawaii to teach other licensed therapists with whom we consult afterwards.

You said that EMDR Therapy is not a talk therapy. Why is that important?

Terry: Emotional trauma is caused by inescapable threatening experiences. Perceptions of threat are stored in a primitive part of the brain that is activated before consciousness – before our ability to think or talk about it – which is a survival reaction that all animals share. (If we had to consciously decide if something was a threat, our reactions would be much too slow to survive.)

As a result, therapy can only be effective if it works with a traumatic emotional reaction before it reaches consciousness and the ability to talk about it. Talk therapy cannot do that. Conversely, if a traumatized person can talk about their trauma, they aren’t experiencing it.

What about exposure therapy that has people relive traumatic experiences?

Terry: There are three reactions to traumatic events: Fight, flight, and freeze. The first two involve intense physiological activation. The third involves numbing of emotional and physical reactions. Exposure therapy has high drop-out rates because it forces people to relive traumatic experiences over and over again. People who complete the therapy change from fight-or-flight to freeze, and their reactions are numb to what previously activated them.

How can people learn more about EMDR Therapy?

Darlene: Online resources are the EMDR International Association, which provides many more details about EMDR Therapy, at EMDRIA.org, and Dr. Shapiro’s EMDR Institute, at EMDR.com.

Dr. Shapiro also founded a humanitarian assistance program to help victims of natural and man-made traumas around the world, which can be found at EMDRHAP.org.

EMDR Hawaii regularly trains other therapists in EMDR Therapy (if they are licensed professionals or in a program that will result in being licensed).

You can visit EMDR Hawaii at EMDRHawaii.com or call us at 521-EMDR (3637) for more information.

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Getting Past Your Past With EMDR Therapy

Terry and Darlene present on EMDR Therapy at the Fifth Annual Pacific Regional Behavioral Health Summit.

Wade, T. C., & Wade, D. K. (2016). Getting past your past with EMDR Therapy. Fifth Annual Pacific Regional Behavioral Health Summit, Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu, Hawaii, September 9.