Monday, April 20, 2009

PTSD Treatment: It's All About the Eyes


Today - and for the next week - BRIDGE THE GAP posts will cover information processing therapies. Don’t know what those are? Well then, this will be a very educational week!

It goes like this: Your brain processes events and stores memories in much the same way as a computer. Pathways are built and constructed for the cataloguing and retrieving of information. Sometimes, the circuitry is a little faulty – the information processing goes a little haywire and has to be, er, rewired. The EMDR Institute describes the process this way,

All humans are understood to have a physiologically-based information processing system. This can be compared to other body systems, such as digestion in which the body extracts nutrients for health and survival. The information processing system processes the multiple elements of our experiences and stores memories in an accessible and useful form. Memories are linked in networks that contain related thoughts, images, emotions, and sensations. Learning occurs when new associations are forged with material already stored in memory.

When a traumatic or very negative event occurs, information processing may be incomplete, perhaps because strong negative feelings or dissociation interfere with information processing. This prevents the forging of connections with more adaptive information that is held in other memory networks. For example, a rape survivor may “know” that rapists are responsible for their crimes, but this information does not connect with her feeling that she is to blame for the attack. The memory is then dysfunctionally stored without appropriate associative connections and with many elements still unprocessed. When the individual thinks about the trauma, or when the memory is triggered by similar situations, the person may feel like she is reliving it, or may experience strong emotions and physical sensations. A prime example is the intrusive thoughts, emotional disturbance, and negative self-referencing beliefs of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I’ve written about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) before in this overview (and, actually, several other places you can find by using the search function in the top left corner of the page).

Rather than repeat myself today, I thought I’d give you the basics as per the EMDR Institute, and then some resources for further investigation.

So, the basics:

The point of EMDR is to facilitate “the accessing of the traumatic memory network, so that information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information. These new associations are thought to result in complete information processing, new learning, elimination of emotional distress, and development of cognitive insights.”

How does EMDR do this? Simple: During an EMDR session the client thinks about emotionally disturbing events, rates the amount of the disturbance on a scale of 1 – 10 and then goes through a series of eye movements (and sometimes, tapping and tones) as directed by the therapist. At the end, the disturbance is rated on a scale of 1 - 10 and the process repeated until the disturbance = 0.

In all of the information processing therapies the point is to sever the faulty neuropathways that trauma creates, thereby freeing us from their continued traumatic activity. A significant amount of the PTSD population uses EMDR and has reported good results. The key, as always, is to find a well-trained and professional practitioner with whom you feel safe, secure and comfortable in reviewing your memories.

The best source of info for EMDR is the EMDR Institute, Inc. Make sure you check out the ‘General Information’ tab, which explains the theory, background and basic 8 step process. The ‘Frequent Questions’ tab covers a wide range of educational topics, too.

Want to see EMDR in action? Check out these videos.

Gulf War Marine Tank Commander in Desert Storm Deals with PTSD at home.

Interview with EMDR therapist and civilian patient


Do you have specific questions about EMDR? Do you have personal experience with EMDR? Leave a comment. Let’s get to the bottom of things and share what we know!

(Photo: musicnpics)

5 comments:

mountainmama said...

thanks for providing this information! i've heard good things about emdr from a friend of mine who has used this in therapy, but it's nice to know more facts too.

thanks again for your blog! i don't know what a blog roll is, but i hope your expansion gives you the space you need :)

Michele Rosenthal said...

@mountainmama - Have you heard of EFT, TAT and TFT? More info processing therapies coming up in the following days!

The blogroll at the bottom of the page is a list of blogs I follow -- about trauma, survival and healing. You might like checking out some of the other bloggers who are writing about these topics.

mountainmama said...

i haven't, i'll check them out, thanks!

and i found your blogroll. thx for putting that up. i'll check those out too!

svasti said...

For some reason, I've only just worked out that your blog isn't in my RSS list - but I've fixed that now :)

As you know, I have very recently used EMDR to great effect. Right now, I'm dealing with depression but the PTSD that's dogged me for years seemingly vanished overnight after a series of EMDR therapy sessions.

I know it doesn't necessarily work for everyone, but I'd say if you've tried a bunch of things and you're getting nowhere, and you're utterly sick of having flashbacks, anxiety attacks and breakdowns, then give EMDR a go.

Michele Rosenthal said...

@svasti - What a ringing endorsement! That's how I felt after hypnotherapy. We really do have to listen to each other's experiences and keep trying things until we find the combo that frees us.