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EMDR and Trauma

Wars, physical or sexual assaults, earthquakes, floods, fires, natural disasters, man-made disasters, workplace accidents, traffic accidents, and chronic or life-threatening illnesses are all events that can overwhelm a person's coping abilities and are considered psychologically traumatic. However, not every negative event is counted as a traumatic experience.


Any event that specifically threatens a person's physical and psychological integrity is called a trauma. If a person has witnessed a truly risky event, suffered physical harm, or experienced extreme fear, helplessness, or horror, this situation can be defined as a traumatic experience for the person.


For an event to be considered trauma, it must pose a threat to a person's physical integrity, belief systems, or loved ones. Trauma is defined as a state of timelessness that leaves a person powerless against the event and deprives them of basic life skills, occurring unexpectedly and with varying intensity, severing the past from the present and future.


EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy approach that helps people heal from the symptoms and emotional distress resulting from negative life events. Research shows that EMDR therapy provides benefits to clients in a shorter time compared to other therapeutic approaches.


It is often thought that healing high-emotion and painful memories takes a long time. However, EMDR therapy shows us that just as the body has the capacity to heal after physical trauma, the mind also has the capacity to heal after psychological trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close and heal the wound. However, if a foreign object or condition aggravates the wound, the pain can persist and the wound may not heal. When the aggravating object or condition is removed, healing will continue. EMDR therapy suggests a similar process occurs in our mental processes. The brain's information processing system naturally works towards mental health. If the system becomes unbalanced or blocked due to a disturbing event or trauma, it leads to emotional injury and intense feelings of pain. Similar to physical wounds, once the situation causing the blockage is identified and removed, the natural healing process will continue. EMDR therapists support the reactivation of their clients' natural healing processes by using detailed protocols and application stages they are trained in.


EMDR therapy involves an eight-phase treatment plan. Eye movements (or bilateral stimuli from different modalities) are used in part of the sessions. After determining which memory to work on with the client, the therapist asks the client to focus on different aspects of the memory and follow the therapist's hand moving within their field of vision. This is linked to a biological mechanism related to REM sleep, as found in a Harvard University study. Associations related to the focused memory start to emerge, and the client begins to process the memory along with the related disturbing emotions, thoughts, and sensations. The emotional significance of the painful and distressing life events undergoes transformation as a result of successful EMDR therapy.


For example, a person who felt fear and had negative beliefs about themselves after a traumatic event may now hold the belief "I survived and I am strong" regarding that event. Unlike traditional talk therapies, the insights gained by the client develop through their own emotional processing and liberated mental capacity, rather than through the therapist's interpretations.


As a healthy result of EMDR therapy, individuals can reframe life events that once pulled them down and challenged them as empowering events. Their wounds are not just closed but have transformed. As a healthy outcome of EMDR therapy, clients' "beliefs, emotions, and thoughts" will begin to progress in a healthy and solution-focused direction.


For more detailed information, see EMDR Turkey Association and EMDR Europe.

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