Using EMDR to treat Trauma: A personal journey

The use of EMDR has helped many to move on from trauma memories and experience hope in their lives once again. In this article, EMCC’s own counsellor and EMDR practitioner, Ms Sapna Mathews, shares a few personal client stories.


Using EMDR to treat Trauma: A personal journey

         Trauma, in its simplest explanation, is a person’s emotional response to a distressing or disturbing experience. Examples of a traumatic event could be parental loss through death or divorce, abuse or neglect in childhood, betrayal from a loved one, persistent bullying, being in an auto accident, even witnessing parental conflict. It is impossible to go through life without experiencing some form of trauma. What makes it difficult is when you feel trapped even though it has been years since you experienced the traumatic event. The memories get stored in the brain and cause a fight, flight, freeze response when something reminds you of the trauma. In a worst-case scenario, it can bring your daily life to a halt, and stop you from functioning normally.

         You may wonder how can counselling help in processing trauma memories from the past. Let me share with you on what I have seen EMDR do in my clinical practice. But first, an introduction to EMDR. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) helps in releasing these traumatic memories through eye movements and rhythmic tapping also called bi-lateral stimulation (BLS). EMDR was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987 to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). BLS and eye movements have been proven in consolidating pieces of memory and processing them, thereby reducing the intense, emotional reactions that characterize post-traumatic stress. Almost like the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep phase where there are distinct periods in our sleep when eyes move rapidly from side to side. Scientists have found that during REM sleep, your brain processes emotions of the day that didn’t get resolved.

         Now let me share some of the stories of how EMDR has helped my clients. Jane (not her real name) had witnessed her parents’ divorce after several years of conflict. Her father, who was her source of safety and attachment, left the family and moved to another country after the divorce. She felt a sense of being unlovable, because as a child, she reasoned that if she was loved, her father would not have left her. This played out in her adult life where she felt not good enough, she didn’t feel like forming lasting connections or friendships. Through her EMDR sessions to address her fear of connection and belonging, she moved towards a felt sense that she mattered and that the distance from Dad was not her fault. Another story is of Diana who had a fear of heights. She would not want to get into escalators or go on hikes. It was her dream to travel, but she couldn’t bring herself to board a plane. Through EMDR, a new memory came up. Her falling from a slide in the playground when she was much younger. The fall had made her realise that she was not safe when at a height. This triggered in her that sense of not having control, making her feel fearful and helpless. With EMDR she was able to process the first childhood memory and move from “I am helpless” to “I can handle it”. Needless to say, her fear of heights is completely gone. Another client who benefitted from EMDR was Sharan. He had memories of being bullied in school and shamed at home for not being as capable as his older brother. He lived most of his life feeling “not good enough”. This led him to avoid groups and constantly having thoughts of people judging him to be worthless. He would avoid crowds at all costs. Even getting into a MRT was overwhelming for him. At work, he chose to be solitary. He found it hard to sleep at night with overthinking about every single incident that happened to him during the day. EMDR helped him process the trauma memories and BLS helped him calm down his nervous system to help him relax and sleep. The stories are endless and full of hope.

         My EMDR training began in 2018. I was drawn to trauma work due to my own brushes with trauma in my childhood. I was constantly searching for therapies that would process my memories with minimal need to relive the trauma each time I had to narrate it. I found EMDR to be so effective not just for myself but also for my clients. EMDR is also effective in relational/marital issues as each person can individually address their personal triggers and responses in order to have a more enriching relationship.

         If you feel stuck in a pattern and find that you are unable to move on in life because of a past trauma, do give EMCC a call and we can have a discussion on helping you get unstuck.

Let me end with a quote by Victor Frankl in his book Man’s search for meaning:

         “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response, lies our growth and our freedom. Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”.

Aricle written by Sapna Mathews, Assistant Senior Counsellor, and EMDR Practitioner

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