Survival Update

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Treat PTSD With EMDR

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is fast becoming a popular and effective treatment for treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD.

Feeling nervous, nauseous, and shaky after suffering a profound shock or stressor event is entirely normal for a while, as the mind and body heal from the ordeal. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the name given to the medical condition diagnosed for a person who continues to suffer from mental, emotional and/or physical pain over long periods of time.

Patients diagnosed with PTSD report having ongoing fear and stress reactions in harmless situations where there is no longer any danger.

EMDR is a new type of psychotherapy that doesn’t involve years of pricey talk sessions or prescription drugs. Instead, the patient’s rhythmic rapid eye movements weaken the power of thoughts and memories charged with emotion and of prior traumas.

Pioneers of the emerging EMDR therapy have different theories about what exactly makes it work. The underlying idea is that consciously recalling a distressing event when the patient’s attention is diverted is often less upsetting and allows memories to resurface without a strong, negative psychological response.

Many therapists report that their patients feel less anxious after receiving EMDR treatments.

The therapist moves her/his fingers back and forth in front of the patient’s face. The patient follows the movement with her/his eyes while recalling an upsetting experience, including how the person felt physically and emotionally. The therapist leads the patient to more pleasant thoughts and feelings.

Rather than use their fingers during these 90-minute therapy sessions, some practitioners prefer to tap a hand or toe or sound musical tones. Reliving stressful experiences happens only in brief doses.

Before and after the EMDR sessions, the patient completes a self-rating for stress and pain levels. Many people who have received this experimental treatment say it helps not only with PTSD but with managing panic attacks, eating disorders, addictions, and anxiety.

PTSD is not one condition but a spectrum of traumatic stress disorders which arise, in order, over time, from Acute Stress Reaction to Acute Stress Disorder to Acute PTSD, and Chronic PTSD.

Combat veterans who have had a concussion are shown to be at high risk for developing PTSD. More women than men are diagnosed with PTSD, as are child and adult victims of a physical assault, abuse, rape, accident (such as a car wreck) or natural disaster (such as an earthquake or hurricane). But purely emotional triggers from bad news (such as the death of beloved) has been documented to cause PTSD.

The National Center for PTSD estimates that 7-8 out of 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Some people are less able to process and cope effectively with a deeply disturbing experience and become depressed with less focus, concentration, memory, fatigue, and anxiety.

Acute PTSD may be diagnosed when the following symptoms are still present more than one month after a stressful situation that has impaired social, occupational or some other vital functioning:

At least one re-experiencing symptom – triggered by words, objects, or situations that recall the upsetting experience and interfere with daily activities such as flashbacks, physical symptoms (racing heartbeat or excessive perspiration), nightmares, and frightening thoughts

At least one avoidance symptom – anything that makes the patient alter a regular route, pattern or routine, such as avoiding places, events, or objects that evoke the traumatic experience

At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms – constant feelings of anger and stress such as startling easily, feeling tense edgy, difficulty sleeping, and angry outbursts

At least two cognition and mood symptoms – feeling isolated or detached from friends or family members, difficulty remembering key features of the traumatic event, negative self-talk or thoughts about the world, inappropriate guilt or blame, and a general loss of interest in enjoyable activities

Chronic PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms endure longer than three months after the traumatic event. A number of other highly disruptive conditions often appear by this time, such as long-term stress from interpersonal relations, mood swings, chronic pain, troubled sleep, profound identity problems, and psychiatric disorders, including substance abuse, depression, and anxiety disorder.

Once diagnosed, traditional treatments for PTSD include cognitive behavior therapies, counseling, and medications.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has noted that EMDR is effective for treating symptoms of acute and chronic PTSD, especially among patients who are uncomfortable discussing their traumatic experiences.

Working together, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense have issued clinical practice guidelines that strongly recommended EDMR to treat PTSD in both military and non-military populations.

Talk to your healthcare practitioner if you or someone you know might benefit from EMDR therapy for PTSD. While in its infancy, this alternative form of treatment may also be effective in relieving other mental conditions such as anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.