I have found that the most effective way of treating trauma is with a technique known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). This technique is used primarily to treat symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but it can also be used to help treat symptoms of anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic attacks related to a traumatic experience. For example, it can be used to treat the fear and panic attacks that can occur when attempting to drive following an auto vehicle accident or the fear and anxiety when trying to establish a relationship after a rape or attack. This technique can actually be used to address any event which dramatically and negatively affects how you see yourself, how you see others, and how you function in the world. Learn more about EMDR at emdr.com
EMDR can be used to treat cognitive distortions such as ruminations; recurrent negative thoughts that loop over and over again in our head, or intrusive thoughts; disturbing thoughts that we are not consciously thinking of, but are just there, haunting us. These cognitive distortions are often related to a variety of self-concept and self-esteem issues.
What makes EMDR especially helpful is that it provides relatively quick relief. Many individuals experience some form of relief after the first session. Many others report significant relief and even resolution of their distressing symptoms within four sessions. Sessions are generally scheduled on a weekly basis and are covered by insurance.
The creator of EMDR, Francine Shapiro, Ph.D, worked for many years in the Veterans Administration striving to provide relief to veterans who were suffering from flashbacks, nightmares, feelings of emptiness and meaninglessness, guilt, anxiety, and hyper-vigilant responses. She wanted to develop a treatment that would capitalize on the brain's natural ability to heal itself. REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) is our deepest sleep, when we dream. Dreaming is the brain's natural capacity to process disturbing material from the day and cumulatively. Dr. Shapiro developed her technique to actually enhance the brain's natural ability to process and, through a series of protocols, to actually bring the disturbing material to resolution.
Some thoughts on how EMDR works
As in REM sleep, it is the bilateral eye movements across the mid-point of the brain, which seems to allow for this processing. Shapiro discovered that this process is reproduced effectively while in the wake state by having the client follow the clinician's finger laterally. The client is asked to imagine the incident and some related thoughts and then a set of eye movements lasting approximately 20 seconds is initiated. The EMDR process serves to disrupt the thought-looping process so that the 'thoughts' can go down different neuro-pathways, thus forming more adaptive responses. This process is repeated many times with the clinician utilizing specific techniques to help elicit increasingly adaptive responses.
What will actually happen
The really good news is that EMDR does not require the client to provide a detailed description of the disturbing incident, Instead, the client visualizes a 'snap shot' of the incident and selects a statement that captures the negative belief the client holds about him/her self currently. They are also asked to rate the 'before' level of disturbance according to a scale. The client holds these images together and the eye movement set is initiated. Then the client is asked to briefly describe what s/he is experiencing (thoughts, feelings, images, body sensations, memories...) The clinician then engages the client in specific procedures according to their responses. These procedures either enhance their response or serve to redirect it. Certain techniques are utilized to help the client distance him or herself from the disturbing material. Other techniques are utilized to create relaxation and safety. These techniques are used at the beginning of each session, as well as during or at the conclusion of the session as needed. Throughout the session, the clinician is evaluating progress by asking the client to 'rate' the level of disturbance utilizing a set scale.