BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — Many residents of North Dakota struggle with trauma, and nowhere is this clearer than in our veterans. While we can honor them for their great service to the country, at times, the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) they develop from traumatic events can make life exceedingly difficult for them. Luckily, a Bismarck clinic is aiming to fight the condition with the help of an unusual treatment method.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing — better known as EMDR — is a mental health technique. The form of psychotherapy involves moving your eyes along with a light, or fingers, back and forth while thinking of a traumatic event.
While a patient is doing EMDR, they follow a light while holding vibrating sensors in their hands and wearing headphones. The process is chronological, and begins when one thinks of the first thing that caused the patient’s upset state or trauma.
“You move your eyes to one side, and the other side of the brain is activated,” explains Clinical Psychologist and Owner of Dakota Trauma Therapy Dr. David Brooks, “and vice versa. And if you switch the sides of the brain activation, move from one side to another, it tends to induce relaxation.”
Most people who seek EMDR treatment are there to help their PTSD symptoms. Those who suffer from PTSD tend to have less activity in the orbital frontal area of the brain — which Dr. Brooks says is concerning.
“The frontal lobe is the master monitor,” Dr. Brooks continues. “It puts all the information together, and we act on the world with our frontal lobe. Having low activity here is not good. It’s kind of like having a plumbing block or an electrical short between logic and emotion.”
Dr. Brooks said that after EMDR, that pathway is then unclogged — which allows emotions to flow properly throughout the brain. In contrast to regular talk therapy, EMDR sessions only consist of the patient saying what the event was — meaning the details of the trauma are not discussed.
“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is different than other kinds of upsets,” states Dr. Brooks. “I think it’s neurologically encoded — it gets into the nervous system. Consequently, it doesn’t tend to self-remit. And talking about it, in my opinion, although others would disagree, tends to be a relatively slow process of working through the issue. I often see patients who have been through ten, twenty, or even thirty years of intermittent or constant talk therapy, and in most of those cases, those people are still traumatized. I have often been able to help people work through their trauma in approximately ten sessions.”
Dr. Brooks said that he has cured almost 2,000 patients in his 30 years of experience with EMDR therapy. The treatment, he claims, helps the patient process their trauma and move on from it, leaving them feeling more relaxed and at ease with their past experiences. However, people who suffer from PTSD are not the only ones who seek treatment from EMDR.
“I also see people for specific fears and addictive cravings,” said Dr. Brooks. “Often, people who have addictions also have trauma and upset in their lives. But essentially, anything that somebody can focus on and really upsets them can be ameliorated usually relatively quickly using EMDR.”
Dr. Brooks measures the level of upset, how well they can remember it, and the negative thought that goes along with that memory — like thoughts of ‘I’m not worthy’ or ‘I feel powerless’. After the topic in mind has been worked through, the level of upset can be observed to lower. Once the number on the scale is at zero, and the patient replaces their negative thought with a positive one, they’re done with that topic.
“Then, I just have you focus on the positive a little bit,” concludes Dr. Brooks. We do a few more movements with the light and then we move on to the next thing.”
After the patient has gone chronologically through the traumatizing events in their life and worked through it, they oftentimes don’t return for more treatment. According to the Highland Springs Clinic, several studies have shown that EMDR is incredibly effective for those suffering from PTSD, with some showing as much as a 77% success rate.
If you would like to learn more about EMDR and Dakota Trauma Therapy, visit their website.