Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, Helps Treat Trauma and Anxiety Issues


Posttraumatic stress disorder, trauma, depression, anxiety, and other issues can cause people to feel stuck in life.  One type of therapy that may be able to help is known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR.  Kristee Barker, Licensed Clinical Social Worker at the Highland Medical Center, has been trained in and implementing EMDR for around two years and has more on what this therapy is all about.

Ms. Barker says, “EMDR is a memory based trauma treatment.  It works to help the brain heal itself.  The pretense is that the brain is like the body, and naturally moves towards wellness when nothing is blocking it.  So for example, if I cut my arm, there’s not really a lot of things that I have to do to make my arm heal.  If, you know, I just keep it clean, my body’s going to do the work, and it’s going to heal it.  Unless, like a sliver gets there, and it gets infected, then I have to do something to go and fix my arm – take the sliver out and then my body can do the work it needs to do.  So the idea behind EMDR is that our brain heals itself, too.  When disturbing events happen, they can sometimes clog the brain’s natural healing process, kind of like the sliver does in your arm.  EMDR goes in to those disturbing memories and helps the brain to reprocess those events, in essence, removing the sliver so that the brain can heal itself.

“In sessions, I do have you do eye movements.  I have you follow my fingers with your eyes throughout the session, and this is related to theories behind REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep.  In your deepest, most healing stage of sleep, your eyes move quickly back and forth.  This stimulates one side of your brain and then the other, back and forth.  This facilitates your brain’s natural healing process.

“The desensitization piece, people with trauma, depression, anxiety, they feel very sensitive.  You know, it hurts.  These events in their life are painful.  EMDR causes them to not hurt so bad.  It desensitizes them.

“Reprocessing.  When you’re struggling with trauma or depression or what-have-you, your mind tends to draw some conclusions like, ‘I’m not safe. I’m a failure. I don’t deserve to be loved. There’s something wrong with me.’  EMDR helps your brain reprocess memories and draw new, more adaptive conclusions.”

Sessions last for fifty minutes.  Though the number of sessions can vary from a just a few days to a few months depending upon the patient and trauma, Ms. Barker says that she has experienced positive results.  She continues, “It’s one of the most heavily researched and evidence-based therapies out there, and the evidence is pretty amazing.  Some studies show that eighty-four percent to ninety percent of single trauma victims no longer have posttraumatic stress disorder after only three sessions of EMDR, which is kind of a big deal.  It’s pretty cool!  Seventy-seven percent of combat veterans were free of PTSD in twelve sessions.  I’ve worked with several patients, and I’ve seen great results with all of them that I’ve done EMDR with.  It’s faster than any other therapy I know, and it’s more efficient and more long-lasting results than any other therapy I’ve ever done.”

If you feel like EMDR could be beneficial to you, an appointment can be scheduled with Kristee Barker by contacting Behavioral Health at the Highland Medical Center at 540-468-6435.  More information is available at www.ourhmc.org.


Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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