The Number 1 Trauma Treatment: EMDR Explained

Lucky us!  Scott Giacomucci, MSS, LSW, CTTS, CET III, trauma specialist, psychodramatist and all around amazing therapist has shared his insights and explained that complicated title: Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, also known as EMDR.  The following is a handout Scott put together for his clients to help explain what EMDR is and how it's done:

EMDR: Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Often, when something traumatic happens, it seems to get locked in the nervous system with the original picture, sounds, thoughts, feelings, etc.  Since the experience is locked there, it continues to be triggered whenever a reminder comes up. It can be the basis for a lot of discomfort and sometimes a lot of negative emotions, such as fear and helplessness that we can’t seem to control. These are really the emotions connected with the old experience that are being triggered.

EMDR therapy for PTSD in Bryn Mawr and West Chester

What is EMDR?

 Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a late-stage, trauma resolution method.  Developed in the late 1980's, EMDR currently has more scientific research as a treatment for trauma than any other non-pharmaceutical intervention. Based on empirical evidence as well as thousands of client and clinician testimonials, EMDR has proven an efficacious and rapid method of reprocessing traumatic material.

EMDR appears to assist in processing of traumatic information, resulting in enhanced integration - and a more adaptive perspective of the traumatic material. The utilization of EMDR has been shown to be effective with a variety of conditions including generalized and specific anxieties, panic attacks, PTSD symptoms (such as intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks), dissociative disorders, mood disorders and other traumatic experiences. Theoretically, EMDR is about integration - bilateral hemispheric (right/left brain) integration; triune brain (brain stem, limbic system and cerebral cortex) integration; and mind/body integration, but practically, it’s about convincing the mind and body that the traumatic event is, indeed over. EMDR helps to put the past in the past, where it belongs, instead of staying stuck in it (feeling like it is happened all over again in the present-with the same thoughts, emotions and body sensations- that accompanied the event in the past).

The eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation) we use in EMDR seem to unlock the nervous system and allow your brain to process the experience. That may be what is happening in REM, or dream, sleep: The eye movements may be involved in processing the unconscious material. The important thing to remember is that it is your own brain that will be doing the healing and you are the one in charge.

How is EMDR Done?  (Parnell, 2006)

  • Establishment of Safety and Resources - Safety within the therapeutic relationship and safety within each individual EMDR session. During each EMDR session, your therapist will begin by activating your own internal resources. (S)he will guide you in an imaginal, multisensory imagery exercise designed to activate images, emotions and body sensations of safety, protection, nurture and comfort. Once these images have been activated, the actual trauma reprocessing will begin.
  • Activating the Traumatic Memory Network - The therapist will ask a series of questions regarding the traumatic memory. The purpose of these questions (or script) is to activate the entire traumatic memory network.
  • Adding Alternating Bilateral Stimulation - Once the entire traumatic memory is activated, the therapist will add alternating bilateral stimulation using:

a) buzzing in your hands by turning on the Theratapper

b) alternating auditory tones via headphones or ear buds

c) moving his/her hands back and forth, so you may visually track the movement

  • Reestablishment of Safety - regardless of whether the traumatic material was completely processed or not, the session will end at a pre-set time. Before you leave, you will be stable, embodied, oriented and calm. Depending on you and your therapist’s preferences, this may be accomplished in a variety of ways including, but not limited to re-activating your own internal resources, breathing exercises, prolonged muscle relaxation, etc.

Looking to continue EMDR therapy?

-You might begin by asking your IOP/PHP counselor for a recommended outpatient counselor who is skilled in EMDR.

-At the EMDR International Association website (EMDRIA.org) you can navigate to the “Find a Therapist” tab and search for a certified EMDR therapist in your community.

 The current treatment guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies designate EMDR as an effective treatment for post traumatic stress. EMDR was also found effective by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Department of Health, the Israeli National Council for Mental Health, and many other international health and governmental agencies.

(Giacomucci 2017)(References: EMDRIA; Linda Curran; Laurel Parnell)

Scot Giacomucci, EMDR trauma and psychodrama specialist in west chester, pa.

Scott Giacomucci, MSS, LSW, CTTS, CET III is a certified trauma treatment specialist and licensed social worker in Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College where he received his Masters in Social Service (MSS) with a concentration in clinical social work. He facilitates trauma treatment services at Mirmont Treatment Center serving a variety of populations including young adults and emergency responders (veterans, police, fire, etc..) in both individual therapy and group sessions. Scott has a gentle, non-judgmental treatment approach that honors the inherent worth of each individual. He utilizes a blend of treatment modalities including both traditional talk therapy and experiential therapy which have been research-proven as the treatment of choice for treating trauma. 

To learn more about Scott Giacomucci and the work he does, you can visit his website at: http://sgiacomucci.com/

Any comments or questions?  We'd love to hear from you!  Please comment below.  For confidential questions, email TiffanySpilove@yahoo.com.  If you need help finding an EMDR therapist, please call 610-314-8402, I'd be happy to help.

How to Find an Expert on PTSD & Trauma for Therapy on The Main Line of Philadelphia

The Main Line of Philadelphia

Philadelphia trauma therapy, ptsd, emdr

is a very special place to live.  If you already live here, you know how unique this place is - if you don't live here, you are in for quite a treat.  The suburban area to the west of Philadelphia has been referred to as The Main Line because of the main train line that connects Philadelphia to all the beautiful towns built up along the train tracks: Lower Merion includes Overbrook, Merion, Bala Cynwyd, Wynnewood, Narberth, Ardmore, Bryn Mawr and Rosemont.  Further out we have Radnor, Villanova, Wayne, St. Davids, Berwyn, Paoli, Malvern, Exton and Frazier.  Each town is unique and has it’s own spin on charm.

Finding an expert trauma therapist on the Main Line of Philadelphia

bryn mawr therapy, counseling, trauma, ptsd, emdr

seems harder than it should be.  With Bryn Mawr's Graduate School of Social Work close by, Villanova University, Rosemont College, Saint Joseph's University, Widener, Immaculata, Cabrini, Ursinus and not to mention University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore and LaSalle, we have so many talented therapists, social workers and counselors.  So, how do you find the therapist who knows just how to help you manage your post-traumatic stress symptoms?  How do you find the counselor you can click with and trust to guide you through an evidence-based method of healing your past traumatic memories?  Choosing a therapist is a very personal decision.  You can have three great therapists, but if you don’t feel safe with them, what’s the point?  If you are looking for a counselor, psychologist, life coach or therapist - I'd like to help you find someone who can help.

Here are some ways to search

Educate Yourself About Methods that Work for PTSD

ptsd, emdr, trauma therapist, counseling, main line

When you have PTSD, there are only a few ways of treating your symptoms that have been studied and proven to effectively reduce or eliminate symptoms.  Those nightmares you’ve been dealing with, the heightened startle response, hypervigilance, and avoidance of triggering situations – those are the things that get in the way of your life.  These are the issues you’ll want to be sure your therapist knows how to help you manage and heal, not just talk about.  One of the top researched methods for eliminating these symptoms is a method called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

ptsd, emdr, main line counseling, therapy

EMDR has been studied and proven as an evidence-based treatment method.  You can learn more about EMDR and how it works here.  Here is a short explanation: when we have traumatic memories, the memories tend to get stuck on one side of the brain and our body tries to heal it by re-playing it over and over, but it stays stuck.  EMDR is a technique that stimulates each side of the body alternately while the patient processes the traumatic material.  This technique helps the brain move the traumatic memory from one side of the body through to be able to process it so it’s not stuck on a loop any longer.  You can find therapists who are trained and certified to utilize EMDR by going on the EMDRIA.org website or asking people who know therapists in the area.  Think about asking friends who have or know therapists, your doctor or someone at your school.  Therapists that come highly recommended and are known to work with PTSD through EMDR methods are a good way to make sure they have a good reputation.  

Google

Type into Google your town and the issue you are looking for help with.  For example, "Bryn Mawr and PTSD" or "Rosemont and Trauma" and see what comes up.  In the top listings that come up in your search, you will hopefully see some links to therapists that specialize in your particular need and are trained in EMDR.    

Psychology Today

What you will most likely see is a result that links to a Psychology Today profile for therapists in your area that have indicated these specialties.  Psychology Today is a great site that is most commonly used for therapists to post their profiles and for clients to find a therapist nearby.  It’s very helpful that you can refine your search by specialty.  The unfortunate thing is that therapists can indicate that we specialize in as many topics as we'd like.  Although a therapist might indicate that they specialize in PTSD, if it's really something we know a lot about, we obtain specialized training in evidence-based methods specifically for PTSD and we will often note areas we are trained in on our websites, so don’t stop with Psychology Today, make sure you read through the clinician’s website as well.

Websites

Check out the websites of potential therapists.  If you are looking for help with flashbacks and the website you are visiting talks a bunch about flashbacks, that's a great sign!  If you are looking for help with a heightened startle response and you're on a website that doesn't mention this symptom, you might want to keep looking.  

Phone consultation

Some therapists offer a free 15-minue phone consultation which is a great service and an excellent opportunity for you to interview your potential trauma therapist.  You are going to be spending a good amount of time and finances on effective therapy, it is very important that you find the right fit for you.

Here are some questions to help you navigate your phone consultation:

1.     What methods do you use to treat PTSD?

2.   How do you help your clients manage overwhelming emotions while they work on traumatic memories?

3.   What do you do to treat the symptoms versus the root of the problem?

4.   How long does it usually take before your clients start to see relief from their symptoms?

5.   How effective are the methods you use?

6.   Given my specific set of symptoms and needs, do you think you can help me and have you helped many others’ with my specific symptoms before?

 

In an ideal world, you would find a therapist who has special training and expertise in the methods that show the best results and someone who has tons of experience working with eating disorders and trauma.  Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world.  So you'll need to search a bit further.  You'll be searching for someone that you connect with, who you feel comfortable talking to, someone who will be honest with you and you'll know you can be honest with them.  

ptsd, trauma, therapy, main line, counseling, emdr

I hope this helps you in your search for the right therapist on the Main Line of Philadelphia.  If you want some tools to help now, sign up for my newsletter to get some tips and tools for managing PTSD and eating disorders.  If you are still feeling stuck, feel free to call me at 610.314.8402 for a free 15 minute phone consultation.  I am available to listen to what's happening and help direct you to the right person.  If you are looking for help with eating disorders or PTSD, you can read more about how I can help here.

Get Proactive About Flashbacks and Intrusive Thoughts

What is PTSD? 

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (DSM V), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a cluster of symptoms stemming from exposure to an event that was traumatic.  In an attempt to heal, our bodies tend to re-play upsetting memories until the memory can be resolved.  PTSD can seem difficult to manage.  PTSD symptoms include things like intrusive thoughts and flashbacks.  While the key to healing PTSD requires more involved therapeutic interventions such as EMDR, there are ways to manage some of the symptoms to make life in between therapy sessions a bit easier. 

What is a Flashback?

Jane, a 28 year old abuse survivor, was out to dinner with her friends.  Suddenly, a waiter drops a tray of food and the sound carries through the restaurant.  Jane hears the clattering of dishes and silverware hitting the floor.  Her body believes she is back in the kitchen from her childhood when her parents fought and kitchenware broke.  Jane crawled under the table, and ducked her head under her arms.  When one of her friends reached out to her under the table, she flinched and apologized to her mother, reliving the childhood scene with her parents.  This is one example of what a PTSD flashback can look like.

A flashback is when a person who has experienced a traumatic event, re-experiences that event in their body.  Flashbacks can be so powerful, that the body believes that the event is happening to them in real time. 

Anticipating a Flashback

While there’s no way to be able to fully anticipate when a flashback might occur, there are some preventative measures you can take. 

Learn what your triggers are -

Scan your history with flashbacks and traumatic situations to see if you can find some themes.  In the example with Jane, she experienced trauma in the kitchen with sounds of breaking plates and glass.  You might notice that there are certain situations like restaurants, the beach, or the grocery store – that can be triggering.  There might also be objects, sounds, smells or people that can set off a flashback. 

Be Prepared -

Once you have a good idea of what your triggers are, see if there’s a way to prepare for them.  In Jane’s example – she might decide to avoid restaurants or just loud, busy ones for a while until some of her symptoms decrease.  She might sit with her back to the wall so that she can see what is happening around her in real time. 

Practice Mindfulness –

You can practice mindful awareness by checking in with yourself regularly to see what you are experiencing in your body.  Notice if any anxiety or dissociative sensations are heightened.  Some people describe their PTSD symptoms as sensations of feeling floaty, spacey, leaving their body, spacing-out, zoning out, feeling overwhelmed, high anxiety or easily startled.  If you experience any of these sensations, pay attention on a regular basis.  These sensations are warning signals that you could be easily triggered when you are in this state.  If you catch the trigger early enough, you can avoid a flashback.

What to do when you’re triggered –

Once you notice that you are in a heightened state of anxiety or dissociation, use some tools to stay in the present; in your body.   

Tools for PTSD Symptoms:

(note: don’t use any techniques or tools you find triggering)

Use the senses – taste, touch, smell, sound and sight

Drink some water slowly.  Notice the cool sensation of the glass on your lips, the water in your mouth and the sensation as it goes down your throat.

Hold an ice cube.  The cold can help you stay in your body by bringing your awareness to your hand.

Smell essential oils such as Bergamot (good for panic attacks) or Lavender (good for stress relief).

Light some incense – watch the smoke rise and coil, inhale the aroma.

Listen to music you find grounding.  Pay attention to the words, tap your feet to the rhythm. 

Play with Silly Putty or clay – notice the texture.  Pay attention to the sensation of the clay in your hands.

Distract yourself and enlist friends to help you distract –

Try to think of as many baseball teams as possible.  Take turns with friends in thinking of the names of all the teams.

Count backwards or say the alphabet backwards

Try to think of other categories such as names of movies, bands, TV shows, etc.

Ask someone else about how they’re doing

Get involved in a project like building model airplanes or re-arranging your closet.  Something tactile that also involves thought is helpful.

Read an engaging book – this uses your sight, engages the sense of touch and distracts your mind.

When you’re thinking about where to put your shoes, your brain is less likely to slip back into a trauma memory.

To learn more about PTSD treatment, contact me at TiffanySpilove@yahoo.com