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Treating depression and anxiety with EMDR: a new article

Here's a new article with a simple explanation of how EMDR therapy can treat depression and anxiety. EMDR is of course closely associated with the effective treatment of PTSD and other trauma. But there is a general point to be made: EMDR treats clients "stuck" in trauma by changing the way the event makes them think about themselves in the present. Therefore, in the same way, if depression or anxiety change the way a client thinks about himself or herself in the present...well, EMDR works for that, too.

I especially like how the therapist explains that what clients perceive as depression or anxiety may result from experiences they may not recognize are traumatic--living 18 years with an alcoholic father, for example. Feeling trapped, even over time, is the essence of the origins of trauma. Click at the bottom of the page to link to the article, or read below.


"Change How You See the World: EMDR Helps Ease Anxiety and Depression"

(Westfield Times Observer, 3/28/17)

By Cynthia Gross

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. EMDR for short.

It’s a mouthful. But, according to Mike Philhower, executive director of Family Services of Warren County, it works. It works especially well, he said, for consumers of mental health services who feel frustrated with lack of progress in previous, more traditional forms of therapy, or for consumers who are simply frustrated by their own inability to overcome maladaptive behaviors.

As with all mental health services in the area right now, EMDR aims at getting to the root of problems rather than just treating the presenting symptoms that bring people into treatment. Consumers come in search of mental health services, for the most part, seeking relief from symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Depression and anxiety are problematic, said Philhower, but more often than not they’re not really problems themselves, but symptoms of root problems. As the definition of “trauma” has changed – it’s not just for combat veterans anymore – clinicians are becoming more aware that consumers who haven’t flourished in traditional treatments may have failed to do so because the initial problem isn’t being dealt with.

“I’ll have someone say to me, well that’s not trauma,” said Philhower. “So I’ll ask them, did it change how you see yourself? Did it change how you see the world? And they’ll answer yes. So I’ll ask does it affect how you deal with the world, and they’ll say yes.” Things that clients don’t recognize as causes of their anxiety and depression, said Philhower, are the things that need to be fixed.

If a person isn’t able to appropriately process trauma early, if they have high-stress reactions that continue to inappropriately inform future behavior, then as life continues – and it does continue, whether we process trauma or not – then unprocessed trauma begins to create the symptoms that bring people in for help. Unprocessed trauma, said Philhower, creates symptoms over time. Symptoms like anxiety and depression are cyclical and can build on themselves to become not just intrusive in everyday life but downright destructive causes of things like substance use disorders and relational aggression.

EMDR aims at the body’s natural, although often unnoticed, physiological reactions to trauma in order to help facilitating the reprocessing of traumatic events. The intervention is delivered over eight phases. Clinicians start with a psychosocial history, identifying traumatic material that’s causing consumers to have continued negative autonomic or cognitive reactions to the memory of. Once the target issue is identified, clinicians work with consumers on intentionally calling forward memory of the trauma while stimulating the consumer’s senses such that they are eventually able to control their mind and body’s reaction to the memory. Rather than having a panic attack and hyperventilating – reactions that are beyond a consumer’s control – EMDR trained clinicians aim to help consumers not just control their responses to remembering trauma, but to replace negative associations and beliefs that the trauma originally induced with at least neutral alternatives.

Rather than remembering a moment of humiliation and thinking, “I suck and everyone is laughing at me,” EMDR aims to help the client who’s experienced a traumatic humiliation react to the memory of it by recognizing a positive result that came later, perhaps something they learned as a result of the experience that actually wound up enriching their lives. Rather than allowing the body to engage in the rapid, shallow breathing that often sets of panic attacks, EMDR hopes to help consumers become aware of subtle changes to their bodies in response to future thoughts and experiences.

Philhower has been trained in EMDR therapy since 2014. Since becoming executive director, he said, he’s been working hard to get more and more of his staff trained in the same. Jada Swart and Joel Davison have both just finished the five month training in EMDR therapy, and more clinicians are working on or planning to get that training as well, said Philhower.

The goal of any therapeutic intervention, including the more traditional Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapies, is to give consumers insight into their own maladaptive beliefs and behaviors. “Insight is empowerment,” said Philhower. The coolest thing about being able to offer EMDR, said Philhower, is watching consumers “change how they see themselves in relation to the trauma. It’s an amazing process to see.”

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