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Trauma and EMDR: Doing More Than Talk Therapy

The effectiveness of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy

The relationship between Black women and trauma is often seen as a rite of passage - something we must live through as part of the Black community but also learn to resolve on our own. It can be challenging to know what therapy works for you to start healing from trauma, but it is essential to your overall health and well-being to try.

A 2021 JAMA Psychiatry study found, since Black women experience higher rates of racial and gender discrimination, they show a disproportionately greater response in the brain associated with hypervigilance and emotional regulation (Fani et al., 2021). It also leads to higher vulnerability to chronic stress and race-related health disparities that wear down those mental resources over time, resulting in:

  • Anxiety Disorders

  • Severe Depression

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Self-Harm and Suicide

Fortunately, there is hope with new and effective forms of trauma therapy like EMDR that help you begin to heal from trauma and live a mentally healthier life.

What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is a relatively new therapy using the principles of eye movement to help people overcome psychological trauma. Chronic stress from PTSD and other disorders can cause neurological changes in the brain, and sometimes the mind needs help reprocessing unstable memories. EMDR is used in treating PTSD, but it is constantly researched to see how it could treat other conditions.

How Does EMDR Work?

The best part about EMDR is that you don't have to talk in detail about your trauma for it to work. EMDR therapy focuses on how to change the neurological response that derives from traumatic experiences. It focuses on a more natural healing process for your brain (the physical changes in the organ) and a more intentional redirecting process for your mind (which includes your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors). In other words, it allows your brain to process the traumatic memories in a healthier way.

EMDR works with your most memory-inducing senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and feel) using a flexible eight-phase approach designed to adjust to your specific needs. The eight phases include:

The 8 phases of EMDR
EMDR Phases

1) History and Treatment Overview

2) Orienting Response (OR)

3) Sensory Processing (SP)

4) Desensitization (DS)

5) Installation (INT)

6) Body Scan (BS)

7) Positive Affective Experiences (PAE)

8) Closure/Debriefing

A typical session begins with Phase 1 and ends with Phase 8, and your EMDR therapist will guide you through each phase based on the order you need, as you may need to start further back if a particular EMDR session seems more relevant for you. For more details on the phases watch this introductory video.

Is EMDR effective?

The most important way to have safe and effective EMDR sessions is to find stability in how you handle life-changing circumstances like coping with loss and grief and building healthy relationships. If you are abusing substances like alcohol or drugs and not practicing self-worth, Phases 3 through 8 won’t work well enough to see long-term results. Talking about trauma brings up all kinds of emotional, mental, and even physical reactions you’ve repressed just to survive, so you must take EMDR treatment seriously due to its potential long-term side effects. That’s why it’s imperative to choose a black therapist you can trust and who understands your trauma as a black woman.

Connect with your culturally competent therapists at KQH Counseling and find out if EDMR is best to help you start healing from trauma today and learn to live an emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy life tomorrow.

Cited Sources

Fani N, Carter SE, Harnett NG, Ressler KJ, Bradley B. Association of Racial Discrimination With Neural Response to Threat in Black Women in the US Exposed to Trauma. JAMA Psychiatry. 2021;78(9):1005–1012. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.1480

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