If you have recently gone through a traumatic event that has left behind both lingering emotional and physical distress symptoms, you should consider participating in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Once considered a novel approach to treating the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), EMDR therapy has emerged as a highly successful method for participants to manage chronic pain, while at the same time dealing with the emotional distress symptoms triggered by a traumatic event. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls EMDR therapy a “first line treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults.”
What Defines Chronic Pain?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines chronic pain as any type of pain that lasts for at least 12 weeks. Chronic pain often develops as a result of sustaining an injury. For example, suffering from the symptoms of a herniated disc at a construction site can morph into chronic pain if the pain lasts 12 or more weeks.
Chronic pain also generates excruciating pain that can lead to the development of mental and emotional distress issues, such as depression and anxiety. The reason for the development of mental and emotional distress issues is that it is difficult, if not impossible for a patient to live a high quality of life. Chronic pain typically prevents patients from enjoying recreational activities and even ordinary daily chores like walking the family dog.
The Connection Between Trauma and Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is a constant and horrible reminder that you endured a traumatic event, such as a car accident or natural disaster. Every time the pain flares up to an unbearable level, a patient begins to reflect on the incident that caused the injuries generating chronic pain. An intense feeling of helplessness often ensues and if not addressed, helplessness turns into acute depression.
Trauma also is a major issue for crime victims. In addition to the chronic pain that develops after an assault or another type of violent crime, victims also experience a feeling of incredible anger that turns into rage. Combined with depression symptoms, a crime victim who feels anger experiences a roller coaster ride of unhealthy emotions. Chronic pain itself can be the source of trauma, as every day seems like an impossible event to get through.
EMDR Therapy Can Treat Trauma and Chronic Pain
EMDR therapy can be the key to addressing trauma and chronic pain issues at the same time. A therapist encourages bilateral eye movements by asking you to follow a finger back and forth with your eyes. The therapist administering EMDR therapy might use another form of bilateral eye stimulation to achieve the desired results. While getting you to complete bilateral eye movements, the therapist discusses the memories that you have of the traumatic event that caused you to be in a constant state of chronic pain. The goal is to make it much easier for you to process what unfolded before, during, and after the traumatic event until eventually, you stop dwelling on negative thoughts and emotions.
The Bottom Line
EMDR therapy represents an effective strategy to help patients process negative events that produce constant chronic pain. It also works as part of a family therapy program that helps a family get through the aftermath of a traumatic event.