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  • EMDR Therapy for Healing from Sexual Violence

    Sexual violence, in any form whatsoever, is a violation of a the entire person; that is, mind, body, and emotion. Healing is possible, though in many cases professional help is needed. EMDR treatment for sexual violence is an effective way to treat and fully heal from sexual trauma.

    The Hard Truths

    Despite the hard work committed by advocacy groups in recent yearse.g. advocating for sex education in schools, teaching about consent in universities, the me-too movementto educate the public on sexual health and consent, the statistics on sexual assault and abuse are outrageous to say the least. Statistics Canada reports that sexual assault rates “…have remained stable over the past 25 years (in contrast with some other forms of gender-based violence, which have declined slightly over the same period)”.

    According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), in the United States 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. When sexual abuse happens, many people don’t know how to cope with the event or express their feelings in a healthy way. The result is a life of feeling shame and fear, which often leads to mental health struggles such as depression and anxiety, living with debilitating shame and confusion, and an overall low quality of life. NSVRC reports that 81% of female victims and 35% of male victims will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

    One way to process the trauma is through EMDR treatment.

    What is EMDR Therapy and How Does it Work

    EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a psychotherapy approach that has been successfully used to treat people who suffer from many psychological struggles, including anxiety, panic attacks, trauma and PTSD, and many other emotional struggles. Before EMDR we were entirely dependent on talk therapy. While talk therapy can be very helpful and can often help people heal from traumatic experiences, it does rely on talking about the trauma and some of the details. This can make talk-therapy a slower form of treatment as the therapist and the client need to closely monitor the risk of re-traumatization when talking about the trauma.

    EMDR is a therapy approach that does not require people to talk about the details of the traumatic incident, and it is often quicker than talk therapy.

    When we experience trauma, such as sexual abuse, the natural coping capacity of our brain becomes overwhelmed and it is common to experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD as a result. Through EMDR therapy, people can reprocess traumatic information until it is no longer psychologically disturbing to them or disruptive to their lives.

    What is a Typical EMDR Therapy Session Like?

    While EMDR will use an integrative approach to counselling therapy, it also focuses on some unique techniques. In particular, the client will perform a series of lateral eye movements, while at the same time focusing on various aspects of the traumatic memory, including feelings, bodily sensations, and negative cognitions.

    These left–right eye movements form a “bilateral stimulation”. The therapist may use other bilateral stimulations including alternating bilateral sound using headphones and alternating tactile simulation using a handheld device that vibrates in the client’s hands.

    How Does EMDR Work?

    It is believed that EMDR induces a fundamental change in the circuitry of the brain, similar to what happens during REM sleep. This helps people integrate and understand memories within a larger context of their own life experiences.

    But EMDR is more than a set of techniques. It is a way for clients to understand their own human potential. Beyond the reprocessing of traumatic events, EMDR also allows individuals a glimpse of any limiting false beliefs they may be holding onto. Examples include negative cognitions such as negative “I am…” statements. E.g. “I am unlovable,” “I’m a bad person” etc.

    In this way the therapy not only helps people move through big, traumatic events in their past, but also smaller chronic ones that colour the person’s perception of themselves and the world. This can ultimately lead to significant positive changes in people’s lives.

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