Child in yellow jacket with frownEye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic approach used to treat trauma-related disorders, including complicated trauma (sometimes called complex trauma).

Complicated trauma can have long-lasting effects that impact your emotional regulation, sense of self, relationships, and overall well-being. It can lead to symptoms such as hypervigilance, dissociation, difficulty trusting others, struggles with intimacy, and challenges in managing emotions.

The good news is, living with the effects of your trauma doesn’t have to be permanent. Let’s explore the benefits of EMDR for complicated trauma.

What Is Complicated Trauma?

First, it’s important to understand what complicated trauma is.

Complicated trauma involves prolonged, repeated, and often interpersonal traumatic experiences, typically beginning in childhood and continuing over an extended period of time.

Unlike single-event traumas, which might include natural disasters or horrific accidents, complicated trauma usually involves chronic, multiple stressors. Often, these stressors stem from relationships with caregivers or other significant individuals in your life where there’s an imbalance of power or trust.

Examples of complicated trauma might include:

  • Prolonged physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Neglect from caregivers or important figures
  • Exposure to domestic violence
  • Growing up in environments characterized by instability or severe dysfunction, such as substance abuse or mental illness in caregivers

How EMDR Helps Complicated Trauma

Shoulders down view of person in jeans and black sweatshirt holding handsEMDR is based on the idea that traumatic experiences can become “stuck” in your brain’s memory network, leading to ongoing distress and interference in your daily life. These memories may be stored in fragmented or disorganized ways, making them difficult to process and move on from.

EMDR can be particularly effective in addressing complicated trauma for several reasons.

Targeting Specific Memories

EMDR helps you identify and target specific traumatic memories or events that contribute to your overall trauma experience.

During an EMDR session, your therapist guides you through a structured protocol that involves identifying specific memories or events that contribute to your overall trauma experience. These memories are often referred to as “targets.” By focusing on these memories one at a time, you can process and resolve them more effectively.

Reprocessing Traumatic Memories

EMDR involves bilateral stimulation, often side-to-side eye movements or tapping on alternating shoulders, which helps you engage in bilateral stimulation while recalling traumatic memories. This process is thought to mimic the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, during which the brain processes and integrates information.

Through this bilateral stimulation, EMDR enables you to reprocess of traumatic memories. This can reduce the emotional charge associated with these memories and shift how they are stored in the brain, ultimately making them less distressing over time.

Addressing Negative Core Beliefs

EMDR also aims to help you integrate traumatic memories into your overall life narrative in a way that minimizes distress and disruption. This can involve reframing beliefs about yourself and the world, as well as developing healthier coping mechanisms.

3 people laying in a circle in a field holding hands and smilingomplicated trauma can lead to the development of negative core beliefs about yourself, such as “I am unlovable,” or “I am powerless.” EMDR can target these beliefs directly, helping you challenge and reframe them to create a more positive self-image.

Enhanced Emotional Regulation

Complicated trauma often leads to difficulties in regulating emotions, such as intense anger, fear, or shame. EMDR can help you develop more adaptive ways of managing these emotions, reducing the negative impact on your daily functioning.

Next Steps

EMDR offers a structured and evidence-based approach to treating complicated trauma by addressing its underlying components, supporting the processing and integration of traumatic memories, and promoting adaptive coping and emotional regulation skills.

If you’re struggling with the effects of complicated trauma, you don’t have to face it alone. Therapy (and approaches like EMDR) offers a safe place for you to heal. Click here to find out more about Trauma Therapy. And if you are ready, reach out today to learn more.