Community mental health agencies using EMDR to help Michiganders overcome trauma

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
(EMDR) is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy used to treat individuals with PTSD, traumatic memories, or other distressing life experiences. The method involves using eye movements or other bilateral stimulation in a specific way while processing traumatic memories. Debra Biniecki, a licensed professional counselor and certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor at Sanilac County Community Mental Health (SCCMH), shares what EMDR is, how it works, and who can benefit from it.
Debra Biniecki, counselor, Sanilac County CMHQ. How does EMDR work?
A. We know that when something traumatic happens to a person, the mind may continue to hold on to it in a way that includes the original picture—the sounds, feelings, body sensations, and thoughts. It feels as though the trauma is locked inside and can be triggered by many different things, people, and events that are encountered in daily life. These old experiences may still cause a great deal of distress.

EMDR seems to stimulate the information and allows the brain to process the experience. There have been several studies detailing the reason for the effects or the eye movements. It may be like what happens in dream sleep or REM sleep. The eye movements (or other form of bilateral stimulation) could help to process the disturbing material by stimulating both hemispheres of the brain. Clearly the eye movements have a positive effect and are an empirically supported treatment for trauma.
EMDR is different from traditional forms of talk therapy. It is not necessary for the individual to discuss the traumatic event in detail. In fact, during the actual processing, they will be encouraged to talk less and let the process happen. EMDR therapy works with the individual’s thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and negative beliefs about the event, linking these memory components together while simultaneously attending to the bilateral stimulation. This begins the information processing. Between sets the therapist will check to see if anything new came up or if there is any change. The idea is to keep the process going.
EMDR was developed by Francine Shapiro more than 30 years ago. It’s been around for long enough that there have been numerous positive outcome studies done on EMDR. There has been so much research on EMDR that it is now recognized as an evidenced based treatment for trauma by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Department of Defense.
EMDR is used to treat PTSD, traumatic memories, or other distressing life experiences.

Q. How does one treat another person with EMDR technique? What do you need to know before an EMDR session?
A. People associate EMDR with eye movements, or some other type of bilateral stimulation, but that’s only one part of the treatment. An eight-phase approach that includes many procedural elements contribute to the success of EMDR. Following the model is very important in an evidence-based practice, and all the phases of treatment are necessary to make sure that all of the dysfunctional elements of a problem are addressed. That’s why each phase is considered essential to the successful completion of EMDR treatment.
EMDR uses a three-pronged approach to reduce or eliminate specific symptoms related to a past experience, the present situations that may trigger negative reactions, and to prepare for potential future situations (anticipatory anxiety, patterns of avoidance).
Q. Who is this technique most helpful for?
A. As in any evidenced-based practice, the closer the clinician follows the protocol, the better the outcome. Treatment fidelity relies on following the EMDR phases to achieve better outcomes.
EMDR therapy was developed as a treatment for traumatic memories and the research has demonstrated its effectiveness in the treatment of PTSD. Some studies have shown 84%-90% of single trauma victims no longer have PTSD disorder after only three 90-minute EMDR sessions. Another study found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple-trauma victims were no longer diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute EMDR sessions. A study with combat veterans found 77% were free of PTSD in 12 EMDR sessions.
It has been used with some effectiveness in treating individuals with phobias, panic disorders, and pain disorders if there is an associated etiological memory attached. It is not likely that EMDR would be effective in treating physiologically-based disorders, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorders. However, there are reports of individuals with these disorders who have been treated successfully with EMDR for distress related to trauma.
Sanilac County CMHQ. How does someone find a professional trained in EMDR?
A. If an individual has been diagnosed with PTSD or has distress related to traumatic memories, they should ask their therapist about EMDR. If their therapist is not trained in EMDR, their therapist can consult with another therapist who would be able to provide the EMDR sessions. EMDR is advocated as a first-line treatment for trauma worldwide.
To become trained in EMDR, the therapist would need to be fully licensed or becoming fully licensed to practice as a mental health service provider. I would suggest looking for a therapist that has taken the EMDRIA approved EMDR training and has completed both levels. This provides about 50 hours of lecture, practicum, and consultation.
Q. How did you get involved in this line of work?
A. I was working as a therapist in an outpatient mental health setting, seeing many people with traumatic experiences in their past that still really bothered them. Talk therapy seemed helpful but never really resolved the traumatic memories. Often people were reluctant to talk about the event, for a variety of reasons.
I heard about EMDR and took the first training from the EMDR Institute in 2005 and then the second training two years later. I started using EMDR with people who had traumatic memories and found it to be very beneficial.
Kelsey Sanders is a wellness professional and freelance writer and editor. She has lived in West Michigan her whole life and loves learning and writing about the many great things her area continues to do. When she’s not working, she’s staying home with her baby girl and enjoying the Lakeshore with her husband.

Photos courtesy Sanilac County Community Mental Health
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The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, Center for Health and Research Transformation, Genesee Health System, Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, North Country CMH, Northern Lakes CMH Authority, OnPoint, Sanilac County CMH, St. Clair County CMH, Summit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.

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