By William A. Smith, LCSW
Certified EMDR Therapist
Partner – The Atlanta Marriage and Mediation Clinic
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is one of the most exciting and powerful models of psychotherapy that is available today. EMDR has a reputation for delivering positive results very quickly, and can be invaluable in helping clients involved in separation or divorce achieve a sense of calm and clarity. In fact, some say that clients can accomplish in weeks what would take years in more traditional models of talk therapy.
Often referred to as a combination of hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR has become one of the gold standards in the treatment of trauma, and is most often recommended for issues such as military trauma, car accidents, physical assaults, et cetera.
What is less talked about, perhaps, is the role of EMDR in treating psychological trauma as a result of a relationship.
Whether the case is related to dysfunction, abandonment, codependency, toxic relationships, abusive relationships, high anxiety about the concept of starting over, a perceived inability to find new love, or simply being sad that an important relationship is ending (which is identical to grief), relationships can certainly be the cause of psychological scars, depression, and/or anxiety.
Attachment trauma, if untreated, can cause significant issues in present and future relationships, and can also negatively affect one’s general mental health. Notably, areas of impact can include trust issues, becoming overly “clingy” in relationships, avoidant/isolative tendencies, or an inability or refusal to become vulnerable.
As mentioned above, EMDR has developed a very strong reputation as being one of the best – and fastest – models of therapy for treating trauma, depression, anxiety, and phobias, and works wonders in relationship applications.
In an EMDR appointment, the client will meet the therapist in a comfortable office setting. The client will be asked to think about a distressing idea or memory while engaged in what is referred to as “bilateral stimulation”, or the process of quick, consecutive stimulation of each hemisphere of the brain, either through eye movements or vibrations. The intention is to manually build bridges between the right side of the brain (emotional) and left side of the brain (logical), which often allows the clients to gain insight very quickly.
Furthermore, significant attention is paid to body work in EMDR. People sometimes forget how strong the mind/body connection is, and trauma – which has so much involvement with the nervous system – is often considered the most physical of all me mental health problems.
For example, clients involved in divorce or separation often comment that they feel they have been punched in the gut, feel hollow, nauseous, tense, have trouble catching their breath, sob, or experience rage when reminded of their relationship. Thus, another goal of EMDR is for clients to reach a point where they are able to think about an idea or memory without a strong physical response.
EMDR can also be useful in other relationship settings, including working through “baggage” left over from parents or other relationships, trust issues, affair recovery, and moving away from resentment.
In summary, attachment and relationship trauma can lead to long-lasting negative psychological effects. Clients who are experiencing depression, anxiety, phobias, behavioral changes, or strong, unpleasant physical responses as a result of an unhealthy relationship should seriously consider EMDR as a method to restoring their mental health.
Local EMDR practitioners can be found at www.emdria.org/find-a-therapist/.
I would be happy to personally consult with anyone who is interested in EMDR for attachment trauma. I can be reached at William.Smith@atlmmc.com.
As in most areas of healthcare, the sooner the problem is dealt with, the better. Being seen early on in the process can minimize mental health issues.