July 28, 2014 by

Jane tried to kill herself three times. In rapid succession. She came to Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (LFS) after being hospitalized following her third try. First, she received therapy to stabilize her mental health. Then she entered long-term therapy to address the root causes of her suicide attempts.  She was successful at achieving sobriety and ending suicidal thoughts.

But she continued to live as a victim, anxious and depressed—and not really knowing why. Although she had a college degree, she worked a dead-end part-time job.  She had no money, so she continued to live with an emotionally draining family and date an abusive person.

Jane (not her real name) began working with one of the LFS therapists who provides specialized trauma therapy called “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing,” or EMDR. EMDR is most widely known for treating post-traumatic stress (PTSD), but LFS therapists recently completed a pilot project that found it also was highly effective in working with other kinds of trauma. With EMDR, Jane’s therapist helped her identify a sexual assault from her childhood. Within two months (eight EMDR sessions), she showed dramatic improvement in the level of distress from this memory.
Within two weeks of completing EMDR therapy, Jane had found a new, full-time job, moved into her own place, and broke up with her abusive boyfriend.

Jane credits the image she first saw during EMDR: her adult self, protecting her “child self” from harm.  Jane says she never realized how powerless she once felt. Now she realizes that she is not responsible for other people’s actions.

When someone experiences trauma—a car accident, a sexual assault, witnessing violence—whatever it might be, the brain tends to freeze that moment in the person’s mind so it never gets resolved or processed. Any event that triggers this memory brings back the entire trauma—the sights, smells, sounds—every time. Such memories have a negative effect that interferes with the way the person sees the world and reacts to other people.

EMDR essentially works to unfreeze this memory, allowing the brain to process it the same way as it does non-traumatic memories. The specific eye movements and light configurations used in EMDR allows the person to break the connection between the memory emotional impact of the trauma, which then allows them to release the emotional pain associated with it. Eventually, they can remember the experience and process it intellectually without reliving it every time, or allowing those emotions to guide their current behaviors.

For Jane, EMDR was truly a life-changing therapy. A very positive one.

Experts say one in four adults and one in five teens experience mental illness within a given year. If you know someone who might benefit from this type of trauma therapy, please contact your local LFS office.