June is PTSD Month /EMDR, an effective treatment for PTSD in sexual abuse survivors

 from my book, Enfolded in Silence/A Story in Art of Healing from Sexual Trauma in Childhood (Amazon.com) :

PTSD: As I became un-numb (from the disociation from my childhood sexual abuse), I had to cope with my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When my abuse got triggered, I felt frozen, cold, numbing in my limbs, locked jaw, vaginal pain, fast heartbeat, shaking and disturbed breathing. After much work, I began to accept this part of me with compassion, and to not shame myself about it. I learned to be careful about not triggering myself unnecessarily. I was careful about books that I read and movies that I watched. I learned to stop reading or watching things if I began to get triggered. I learned to prepare ahead for necessary medical procedures that triggered me: I talked to my doctor and we worked out a plan with the technicians to minimize my distress, and to put me back in control in the procedure.

EMDR (eyemovement desensitization and reprocessing) is a treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It has been used effectively for veterans coming back from war and for others who have experienced trauma, including survivors of childhood sexual abuse. It is a process that stimulates opposite sides of the brain (my therapist tapped alternately on my right and left knees), and breaks up the neural pathways that go from the trigger to the reliving of the trauma. While the opposite sides of the brain are being stimulated, the therapist takes the client back into the feelings and thoughts of the abuse—back into the trauma—but with some protective distance between the client and it. While there, the client is able to see things differently and begin to modify the beliefs that went along with the abuse (like “it’s all my fault”). The process is continued until the old pathways are cleared. After that, the positive beliefs (the truths) are installed by the same process.

It is very hard, wrenching work at times, but the results are amazing...It took me a while to realize what had happened, but the power of the devastating lies and the potent feelings of the abuse were dramatically lessened. Feelings could of course resurface but not in the same kind of traumatic way they had before. The symptoms of PTSD were greatly reduced. The abuse became a memory (one that I had deep feelings about) and not a present trauma. There are therapists specially trained in EMDR. It is something that requires this professional training. I also had my regular therapist in the room to support me.

I did EMDR ten years after I started working on my abuse. In some ways, I wish I had done the EMDR sooner, but...it took me time to be ready. It is a powerful tool, and has made a huge difference in my healing. In my heart, I no longer believe the terrible lies that came with my abuse. Sometimes they get triggered but I can much more easily process them most of the time. There is still a frequent flow of self-criticism that remains, but it is not at the same level and I have the tools to deal with it.

See Francine Shapiro and Margot Silk Forrest, EMDR/ The Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety. Stress and Trauma (New York City, NY; Basic Books, 1997).

I highly recommend EMDR for all those who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am glad we have a month to recognize this debilitating disorder.


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