Avera Medical Minute ASH: EMDR therapy for trauma and distress

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Unresolved trauma can be very damaging to a person's mental health. In fact, it's a big reason people develop bad memories and fears. So how do you treat it? Counseling helps but there is one therapy that helps patients resolve their issues and all they have to do is follow the lights.

Like many Americans, Tweeter Henseler has regular counseling sessions. But recently she's been utilizing a different type of therapy.

"I had no idea what it was I just had read that it really helped people who have had trauma; any kind of trauma." said Henseler.

It's called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR therapy. So what does that mean? Well, essentially it's following lights to focus unresolved issues.

"It allows people to reprocess things that weren't were processed before which come back out and stimulate triggers." said Sister Mary Carole Curran, a psychologist at Avera Sacred Heart.

Many of our emotions, feelings, and beliefs are formed by either good or bad memories. In the case of many bad memories or trauma, our brain doesn't process or store it correctly which can lead to distress or negative feelings like depression. That's where the moving lights come in. What EMDR therapy does is it prompts the brain to reorganize those memories by stimulating the part of the brain responsible for processing and storing memories.

"Then you (have the patient) find the target memory and they get a picture of it and they think about that and while they are thinking about that they look at the lights going back-and-forth." said Sister Curran.

Sister Mary Carole Curran has been doing this type of therapy for about fifteen years. During the sessions, patients like Tweeter focuses on their current problem and very quickly the lights and eye movement will bring out those repressed thoughts.

"Your mind will do it for you, you don't have to find the memory, they don't have to talk, I don't need to know what they're processing is but it's a process of learning that a new learning takes place." said Sister Curran.

Following lights isn't the easiest therapy for people to understand and can seem strange. Even Tweeter had her doubts.

"I was at first, I thought how is this going to work? Really and I was pretty amazed that when you start with an image then the image changes and it goes to something that you've never really thought of." said Henseler.

Like other therapies it can take a few sessions for that reprocessing and new learning to take hold. But for Tweeter working through her trauma with EMDR was a huge step forward.

"When I left here that fear that has always kind of been a barrier, that kind of paralyzed me, wasn't there. I can't explain why it works, but I can feel a difference, I really do feel a difference." said Henseler.

EMDR therapy can be adapted and utilized for any form of trauma. Recent studies have shown it to be very effected for treating post traumatic stress disorder in combat veterans. For more information about just call 877-AT-AVERA.