Trauma and its associated anxiety and depression can be incredibly difficult to endure. As a therapist, I have seen how painful this can be for the client and their family and friends. Often the individual feels alone and desperate, not knowing where to turn. What I have found to be incredibly effective in treating trauma is EMDR and Brainspotting (BSP). We use these therapies in addition to our other evidenced-based approaches to address PTSD and trauma induced anxiety.
These are therapies that work in a deep, efficient manner to bring about observable healing in the client. The goal of EMDR and Brainspotting therapy is to process these traumatic memories, reduce their lingering effects and allow clients to develop more adaptive coping mechanisms.
If we are seeing an overall decrease of symptoms, it would make sense that there would also be an observable change in the nervous system. On a physiological level we do see evidence of this by brain scans by Daniel Amen, M.D.
Brain Scan – Before EMDR
Brain Scan – After EMDR
Before and after EMDR brain scans. Left photo Shows woman with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Right photo shows same patient after four ninety-minute EMDR sessions. The red areas indicate overactivity in the brain.
— Photo by Dr. Daniel Amen
EMDR was first developed by Francine Shapiro upon noticing that certain eye movements reduced the intensity of disturbing thoughts. Shapiro noted that, when she was experiencing a disturbing thought, her eyes were involuntarily moving rapidly. She noticed further that, when she brought her eye movements under voluntary control while thinking a traumatic thought, anxiety was reduced. She then conducted a scientific study in 1989. The success rate of that first study using trauma victims was posted in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. Shapiro soon developed EMDR therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She speculated that traumatic events “upset the excitatory/inhibitory balance in the brain, causing a pathological change in the neural elements. EMDR is now recommended as an effective treatment for trauma in the Practice Guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association. EMDR also has validation by the American Psychological Association, and the Department of Defense and the Veteran’s Administration.
To date, there are more controlled studies validating EMDR for the treatment of PTSD than any other treatment method. The previous standard-bearer in the field of psychotherapy was (and still is, to a great extent) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Controlled studies have shown both to have an 80% success rate. EMDR has been shown to accomplish that result in 1/2 to 1/3 the time of CBT, with far less homework (100 hours for CBT, compared to 3 hours for EMDR). EMDR had a lower drop-out rate, as well.
David Grand, Ph.D. is a master EMDR therapist who has given international trainings in EMDR therapy to therapists, and been an EMDR Institute Facilitator for trainings given to therapists in America. He, too, made a serendipitous discovery. For him, it occurred in the midst of doing EMDR therapy. He slowed down the eye movements greatly with his clients, and observed that this helped them process disturbing material more gently, and perhaps more effectively. This gave him the opportunity to observe that at particular positions of the client’s eye, he noticed reflexive eye-blinking. “Where we look affects how we feel,” is a natural phenomenon that Brainspotting uses through relevant eye positions to locate, focus, process, and release this wide range of conditions.
EMDR and BSP use a structured approach to address the past, present, and future aspects of traumatic or distressing memory. This approach can be described in more detail by your therapist during your first session.