EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a type of therapy which differs from talk therapy.  It was created by Francine Shapiro during a time when PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) was gaining recognition as a disorder affecting many people, but had limited treatment options.  As a result, EMDR was researched with people suffering from the effects of traumatic experiences.  It was found to be effective.  In my work, I’ve found EMDR to be effective with survivors of sexual assault.

How does EMDR work?

EMDR therapy is led in therapy sessions by an EMDR trained therapist.  It’s an 8-phase process.  While it is not fully understood what happens internally, it is believed that bilateral stimulation helps the two sides of your brain work together in a new way.  This is important because of how trauma is stored in the brain and the body.  Traumatic memories are different than the memories you hold of every day experiences.  This is because your body goes into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode when trauma occurs.  As a result, the traumatic memories are often associated with strong sensory components and details of the event may not be fully remembered.  Moreover, it may be difficult to put your experience into words.

The first steps of EMDR include strengthening your internal resources and coping skills.  Additionally, you identify the traumatic memories you want to work on.  As EMDR gets underway, bilateral stimulation will be used, typically in the form of eye movements.  Bilateral stimulation helps your brain and body reprocess past experiences.  Your eyes will follow a therapist’s fingers back and forth, or you will alternate taps on your legs or upper arms.

What is Trauma?  What is PTSD?

The American Psychological Association describes trauma to be an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. You may experience trauma directly, or you may witness someone else experiencing trauma, or learn about trauma occurring to a close family member or friend.

In the immediate aftermath of trauma, feeling shocked or numb, or denial are common responses.  For some of us, experiencing trauma can have the longer lasting effects of PTSD.  While this can vary for person to person, you may experience things such as flashbacks, nightmares, mood changes, difficulty trusting, sleep troubles, issues with concentration, urges to avoid remembering what happened to you, or avoidance of external things that remind you of the trauma.

Sexual Assault is a Form of Trauma

Sexual assault occurs when you’re forced into any sexual act.  According to the blue bench, a Colorado based organization focused on ending sexual assault, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetime.   And shockingly, 99.5% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.

Unfortunately, there are many myths out there about sexual assault.  Many of these myths inaccurately place the blame on the person assaulted, which can add to the trauma experienced.  The blame a survivor encounters following rape can also keep them silent, which can lead to increased feelings of self-blame and shame.  Therefore, as a survivor, you may be experiencing the detrimental effects this has on your mental health.

Treating the Effects of Sexual Assault with EMDR

EMDR alleviates the symptoms of trauma in a few different ways.  Here are three ways EMDR addresses common struggles survivors of sexual assault experience:

  1. Disturbing memories

One of the goals of the EMDR process is to eliminate the disturbance you associate with particular memories.  Put simply, the traumatic memories can be reprocessed to a point where they feel more like a typical memory.  This makes remembering the experience less disruptive in your life.

  1. Negative self-beliefs

Your sense of self can be shaken when trauma occurs.  This can lead to internalized negative beliefs about yourself.  Through EMDR, we identify the negative self-beliefs you hold as a result of your experience.  Additionally, we identify and strengthen positive self-beliefs.

  1. Difficult emotions

You may experience many emotions following a rape.  Some of them include fear, shame, guilt, confusion, anger, sorrow, and helplessness.  EMDR works to tap into the stored emotional aspects of your experience in your brain.  This helps you process them in a new way, and can often lead to insights to aid your healing process.

EMDR Can Help You Find Your Way Forward

Unresolved trauma often keeps you stuck in the past, and fearful of the future.  Each survivor of sexual assault has their own unique journey to healing.  Therefore, finding which way is your best way is crucial as you confront your past and move towards your future.  EMDR may be an effective therapeutic intervention for you.  If you’re ready to put the past behind you, please contact us to see how EMDR could help you.

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The blue bench https://thebluebench.org/

The American Psychological Association https://www.apa.org/

EMDR International Association https://www.emdria.org/