Your Healthy Family: EMDR helps patients process trauma - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Your Healthy Family: EMDR helps patients process trauma

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Karen Aldridge has always loved dogs. She studied dog behavior and trained dogs for a living. But when she made a change in career and had a traumatic run-in with an aggressive dog, she found herself unable to work with dogs, even her own beloved pet bulldog.

"I became afraid to go outside I became nervous too if I heard a dog bark. I couldn't watch the animal planet it was the most ridiculous thing I couldn’t watch the Animal Planet," says Aldridge. "I stopped walking my own dogs, I was I knew I was in trouble."

She turned to Dr. Chandra Nagireddy for help with a trauma therapy called EMDR - Eye Movement and Desensitization and Reprocessing.

“Any experience that overwhelms the capacity of the brain and body can be called a trauma, those memories of those experiences get stuck in the brain and in the body," explains Dr. Nagireddy. "The brain subsequently is unable to process those memories, as a result they get stuck and storied in that state dependent form and it can stay there for years.”

EMDR was first discovered in 1989 and exactly how it works isn't fully understood. Here are the basics of EMDR, the traumatizing event and the memories around it are identified, those memories are then recalled and guided by the therapist and paired with stimulating the right and left side of the brain, and rapid eye movement.

"Everything that we understand about EMDR is more speculating, we are speculating because truly we don’t know the exact mechanisms of pathways of change for any mode of psychotherapy therefore, in EMDR the theory it’s called the Adaptive Information Processing Theory. According to this theory, a disturbing event a disturbing experience that overwhelms the capacity of the brain and body can get stuck and is undigested.  And it gets stored in a different format so subsequent life experiences they don’t overwrite the past disturbing experience now," explains Dr. Nagireddy.

For Karen, EMDR was her path back to a normal life. In a normal therapy session you talk out your troubles, but in EMDR you hold two buttons, that vibrate back and forth. Getting your synapses moving back and forth to process while you keep your eyes on a light bar that you track from left to right, and back again, as the brain processes.

Dr. Nagireddy says some theories about how EMDR works, are tied to REM sleep, and that eye movement is tied to our brain processing information while we sleep.

“It is possible that by simulating such eye movements while a person is awake we are kind of jump starting the same kind of phenomena that occurs in the REM sleep. Because it’s in the REM sleep that all the most of the information processing occurs and it gets incorporated into our dominate self or dominate memory network, where they belong," says Dr. Nagireddy.

She explains how therapies worked for Karen. "We had 15 visits and she was able to completely process that experience and she was able to look at a dog and be fully present and she said, 'I am back to being myself.'”

"To have an animal that i’m that terrified of, that I was that terrified of get that close to me again. And I call Dr Chandra, and i was like 'ahhhhh I just let a pit bull lick me', you know it’s exciting," says Karen.

While Karen says she has talked with people who have tried EMDR and it hasn’t worked for them, if you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, or emotions that you can’t control, EMDR is worth a shot.

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