5 Benefits of EMDR Therapy for Trauma Survivors

I have been using Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for a few years. I use it in addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, goal setting, journals, coping techniques, and disciplined and intentional self-care practices. 

As a survivor of long-term childhood sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect – I have many layers of traumatic experiences and negative perceptions of self and the world, to work through. Simply talking about it doesn’t help, all that does for me is stir the proverbial pot of uncontrollable emotions.  

I have had to learn how to feel big and uncomfortable emotions, I have had to learn how to recognize and then separate the past from the present, and in order to that, I have realized I need to process these memories properly through my brain. EMDR is a technique that has helped me tremendously with all of this when used as part of my treatment. 

Here are 5 benefits of EMDR Therapy for Trauma Survivor managing C-PTSD.

Reconnecting to my Body 

One of the questions repeated often in therapy sessions with survivors of sexual, or physical abuse is, “Where do you feel it?” anytime you are talking about emotional disturbances or traumatic memories. The reason for this is because the natural response of the majority of abuse survivors is complete sensory shut down. It is how we protected ourselves during assaults. Many of us have shut down emotional connection too. Not to say we don’t feel things – it’s just a shallow, disconnected “feeling”.  

During eye movement sessions, you will be asked each time what you see, what you feel, and where do you feel it. 

Through this continued and persistent practice, over the course of the last few years, I am developing a connection to my body that I haven’t had before. I am realizing physical sensations in response to emotional reactions. As I begin to feel my body’s response, not just hear the mental screams, I am able to begin seeing patterns in my somatic symptoms and responses to everyday life. This for me has been an integral step in identifying my physical triggers, in order to address them properly.  


Psychological Connection & Awareness 

The mind does not recognize the linear existence the body demands. Most trauma survivors pack away all the bad memories into a mental vault, then for purposes of survival dissociate from them. The experiences, the terror – it all becomes part of someone else’s life, someone we knew but who no longer exists. 

Unfortunately, that just isn’t so – that person still exists, we are still that person. We still feel all those things, think all those things, believe all those things –  

I spent decades dissociated, even though I had mentioned my childhood trauma during that time even recognizing it has had adverse effects on me. Unfortunately, it was all words, never a true awareness. Never any real association of the magnitude of my childhood and how it has directly affected my behavior, my thought processes, even the way hormones are pumped through my body. I had created a new narrative for my life, and it had nothing to do with where I came from. 

EMDR therapy has helped me make that psychological connection. From that connection, I have begun to develop an awareness of my inner child and her pain, her strength, and her resilience. I have connected to her and in doing so have recognized her pain, her strength, and her resilience – is also mine. Making these connections, feeling levels of new awareness have been difficult but amazing.  

This is what it means to feel!  

Recognizing & Integrating “Then vs. Now” 

Most survivors are probably tired, perhaps even pissed off at constantly hearing “But that was then”, or “That’s in the past, let it go”.  

Survivors can’t let it go because it won’t let go of us. Trauma doesn’t go away, we learn to live with it as part of who we are. We learn to turn it into the catalyst for our strength; it becomes a place where we tap into deeper levels of understanding, empathy, love, and resilience. It is a part of who we are, living with it is a part of being whole, our happiness and our sadness must learn to coexist. 

As I use EMDR to address specific traumatic moments and emotions, I am becoming more aware of the ‘then vs now’ and how that manifests in my everyday interactions. I am learning to recognize when a situation in the present day evokes traumatic feelings connected to past experiences, due to my new levels of awareness and understanding. 

This helps me manage triggers that spur incorrect and heighten responses from me. Through the reprocessing technique, I have been able to identify actions by others and by myself, that cause negative cognitions about myself. It helps me focus my treatment, practice self-care, and I have been able to develop and execute better boundaries with co-workers, friends, and family.  


I am Learning to Trust Myself & the Process 

Raise your hand if you constantly question yourself: the decisions you make, the feelings you have, your memories, your brain as a whole … 

Yeah, me too, but not like when I first presented to therapy. 

Being abused and terrified by the people you love the most as a child does a lot of damage when it comes to trust. Most people might think that the trust issues only pertain to trust of other people, but that lack of trust is brutal when turned inward. Spending most of your life believing horrible things about yourself, blaming yourself for the torment, loathing your inability to defend yourself – it all manifests into adulthood. 

EMDR is helping me to put my childhood into perspective, to identify the feelings that I had, why I felt them, and then to reconcile them into my life as it is now. As my awareness deepens, so does my understanding of the emotions I felt as a child, and then suppressed. I am learning to trust the process, even when it is exhausting and thus validate and honor all of the emotions that are surfacing.

In doing so, I am able to self-correct negative thoughts, be patient with myself when the past shows up, learn how to feel, and manage my responses and emotions better. With every successful interaction or situation, I am learning who I really am, and in doing so I am learning to trust myself.  

The Release of Emotional Stress 

What is that, right? Can you even imagine? One thing I always share in conversation with people about my EMDR therapy is how I can physically feel when strong emotions loosen their grips on me during an eye movement session. There have been a few instances where I have felt so strongly the release of overwhelming emotions that I have talked about it directly after with my counselor.

For every memory I have faced head-on using EMDR over the last two years, my levels of emotional stress surrounding them continue to stay low (in some instances non-existent) and easily manageable.  

I am so grateful for EMDR therapy, it is a huge part of my recovery process and it works amazingly well for me as I work on layer upon layer of my struggle with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. 

As my therapist and I discuss ways of safety reintegrating EMDR into my sessions, I will continue to write on this topic.

If you want more information on EMDR you can visit their website The EMDR Institute, Inc. 

Follow my Therapy Dump Series and take a front row seat as I reflect and procession my weekly sessions.

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4 thoughts on “5 Benefits of EMDR Therapy for Trauma Survivors

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  1. Thank you for writing this Shanon. I will look into EMDR. I wrote my big feelings into poetry, then took it all down after years of trying to manage the onslaught. One by one, I am sharing these again on my Niki Flow blog, in a collection I call “Moonsongs.” My blog was called “Songs from the Dark Side of the Moon – A Survivor’s Journal.” Not an original title. I began building it on Tripod in the early days, 1999, when the Midi was king. *chuckling* You say it well — one does not “get over it” since “it” is something that is in our bodies, inside our bones. Only those whose innocence was stolen really understand this. I’ll check out Parts 1 and 2 of your series tomorrow. Thank you again for writing, and writing so well and vividly and with so much truth. Every word resonated with me as I read you again today, as it did the first time I read you. During December, after finding you and other CSA survivors on Twitter and Mighty Me, I approached my story again and began to write. The emotions were so overpowering that I was sick for most of December. That’s when I bought “The Body Keeps the Score.” So far (three chapters in, very slowly reading) so good. I recently bought the book for partners for my husband. I can’t even think about what he has had to endure without breaking down into sobs. I love him, and — you’re right. Mistrusting ourselves is one of the cruelest things about being a CSA. I didn’t even realize how much I despised myself until I had done decades of damage. Thank you for reading this very long post. I am grateful to be connected with you.

  2. I am about to try EMDR for PTSD. I’ve been nervous about it but Next Tuesday will be my first session. It’s taken a month for me to decide to try it along with CBT. Thanks for the explanation. I feel hopeful and less scared.

    1. EMDR was one of the best decision I’ve made regarding my healing. Wishing you peace as you embark. Just remember to be patient and kind to yourself, and as my therapist always says when it comes to how I process … No Judgement. 💜

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