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Cognitive Behaviour Therapy has been and remains a major empirically validated treatment for trauma and PTSD. However, the accumulation of a significant evidence base for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), has resulted in its’ recognition as an equally validated and recommended treatment modality for trauma. In addition, evidence is now emerging in support of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT, Tapping) as an effective treatment.
Sometimes, when something traumatic happens, it can seem to get “locked” in the nervous system with the original intensity of images, sounds, thoughts, feelings, and so on. The experience fails to be processed in the normal ways into long term semantic memory, but rather becomes “stuck” and continues to be triggered whenever a reminder comes up. It can be the basis for a lot of fear, discomfort, re-experiencing, negative emotions, nightmares etc. Disturbing events become stored in the brain in an isolated memory network. This prevents normal learning from taking place. The old traumatic material just keeps getting triggered over and over again.
In EMDR therapy the client is asked to bring up a memory of a past event which is still having an effect on them and establish a link between consciousness and the site where the information is stored in the brain. Using sets of eye movements, information processing systems are activated and disturbing information is processed – often at an accelerated rate – further along the appropriate neuro-physiological pathways until it is adaptively stored in long term memory. The eye movements used in EMDR seem to “unlock” the nervous system and allow the brain to process the traumatic experience. It is thought that this is what may be happening in REM, or dream sleep.
EMDR is an accelerated information processing technique. Trained therapists consistently report that during EMDR treatment their clients’ negative images, affect and cognitions become more diffused and less valid while positive images, affect, and cognitions become more vivid and more valid.
Over the past 20 years, EFT has increasingly gained widespread professional acceptance. EFT has been found to be an efficacious therapy for many problems such as anxiety (including phobias), depression, PTSD and food cravings and has been supported with numerous RCTs and other studies.
The basic premise of the Emotional Freedom Techniques is that the cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body’s energy system. When our energy becomes blocked or is otherwise disrupted along one or more of the body’s energy meridians, negative or damaging emotions can develop along with all types of physical symptoms. EFT combines gentle tapping on key acupuncture points while focusing your thoughts on pain, unhappy memories, uncomfortable emotions, food cravings, or any other problem. The underlying emotional problems are typically released along with the energy blocks. When treating trauma, the emphasis with EFT is not on analysing the memory and its’ meaning, but by interrupting the intense emotional responses to the memories by using acu-points. When the emotional charge of the memory has been neutralised, individuals’ attitudes towards their memories changes. Thus they can think and talk about the traumatic memory without being re-traumatised. Gentle techniques within EFT can be utilised so that the traumatised individual is not overwhelmed with feelings associated with the trauma. The individual is not required to discuss the traumatic event if they don’t wish to.
A theoretical framework for the physiological mechanisms of action of EFT has emerged from outcome studies. These have clarified the neuronal, genetic, neurotransmitter, and hormonal pathways that may be engaged when EFT alleviates psychological stress. Studies from various areas have suggested that just as emotional trauma may be encoded physiologically by brief traumatic experiences, interventions that reduce stress can rapidly and permanently reverse the process.
At Christine Phillips Psychology, EMDR and EFT are amongst a number of evidence based therapies that we offer clients for a wide range of presenting problems in adults and adolescents. Other therapeutic approaches include CBT, ACT, Solution Focused Therapy and Mindfulness approaches.
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Church, D. (2010). Traumato- logy, 16, 55-65. doi:10.1177/1534765609347549
Church, D., Yount, G. & Brooks, A. (2012). Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 200: 891 – 896
Feinstein, D. (2010). Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 47, 385-402. doi: 10.1037/a0021171
Feinstein, D., & Church, D. (2010) Review of General Psychology, 14, 283-295. doi:10.1037/a0021252
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Lee, C. (2002). Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(9), pp1071-1089.
Oschman J (2006) Trauma energetics. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 10:21.
Sticklgold, R. (2002). Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(1), pp61-75.
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