Youth Home Therapists Discuss Impact of EMDR
This month our Greatest Need comes from our Clinical department, which manages all the life-changing mental health treatment on our Colonel Glenn campus. One of our many treatment programs is EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. The name is a mouthful, and it gets even more interesting when you learn about it.
EMDR Light Bar
EMDR helps our patients (and their families) deal with traumatic or distressing memories which affect behavior. Sometimes the memories are hidden away and the patient does not quite know how they have been affected. Using EMDR, the therapist and the patient are in control of the re-processing experience, which keeps the patient safe from re-traumatization. All Residential therapists at Youth Home are certified or will be by the end of the year. We spoke with Peyton Woodruff, Allyson Shoptaw, Madison Nolley and Kacy Long about the treatment method, the effect on patients, and more.
"The important thing to remember is that it's your own brain, you will be doing the healing, and that you are the one in control."
- Peyton Woodruff, LAC, Lead Clinical Therapist
What Is EMDR and How Do You Describe It?
Peyton tells her patients that EMDR is a way to put books back on the shelf in your own mental "library". Every day, she tells them, your mind pulls down books that help you function. But, she says, "There's no manual telling you how to get past a traumatic, life-threatening incident. You have all these papers but there's no set book to put them in." EMDR helps the patient keep their mental desk clear.
Allyson tells her patients that the mind is like a filing cabinet. When you sleep, your mind can put the files in order. But a traumatic event disrupts the process: "Every day your brain is just filing, filing, filing. Except when a trauma happens, it's like an error."
Kacy Long thinks of EMDR as a kind of computer troubleshooting program. "The cool thing about EMDR is that the re-processing doesn't stop when you leave the session. Once you activate the brain and it starts going through those neural pathways...you continue in the background. It's like when you do a background scan of your computer and it's filing away and getting rid of all those things."
The Results Speak for Themselves
EMDR uses unfamiliar terminology such as "bilateral stimluation" and utilizes technology and techniques that are different from traditional psychotherapy, or so-called "talk therapy". But our therapists say that its strangeness can be overcome by its quick results.
"When I explain it," says Peyton, "they think it's 'voodoo'. But when [the family is] able to see a completely different version of their child... they see that it works. What could take months to work through...can sometimes be resolved in one session. They measure themselves how much it's working."
Allyson has seen the same response: "That's what a lot of people say, even adults: that they've been in therapy for a decade...and EMDR was such a different kind of therapy. For the most part, when I have people that are ready to do the work, I've never had a person not see fast results. And it is always suprising to them."
Like all treatments, EMDR doesn't make people change overnight, but our therapists say that identified behaviors such as acting out, aggression, and other negative behaviors are often affected after a breakthrough. The treatment helps a patient's mind heal and find new ways of meeting emotional needs. Kacy Long put it this way:
"Once they have that awareness, kids and families can decide what they're going to do with that. Once you have this information, are you going to make behavioral changes? Or are you going to have this information but continue what you're doing?"
To see the Light Bar in action, watch this short video:
For more information about Youth Home's Greatest Needs, visit the blog:
Clinical therapist Joe Yoder, from our outpatient clinic Behavioral Health Services of Arkansas, has also written a post about EMDR therapy and its benefits:
Click here for a news story that offers a few more details of the process of EMDR: