Each time a mass shooting, terrorist attack, or natural disaster occurs, it becomes increasingly important to raise awareness of counseling options to help in dealing with the emotional trauma people can feel as a result. Incidents like these can cause symptoms of posttraumatic stress, including a hyperaroused state, nightmares, avoidance of trauma-related emotions or reminders, and flashbacks to the event (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Early intervention can assist in healing (Shalev, 2002).
People who experience trauma may benefit from counseling approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2016). While some argue pros and cons of the various treatments, EMDR has been used by more than 100,000 therapists to treat millions of people in the past 25 years (EMDR Institute, Inc., 2016). It has been approved as a treatment for trauma by the World Health Organization, American Psychiatric Association, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (Doherty, 2016).
EMDR uses back-and-forth horizontal eye movements paired with unique therapeutic protocols to produce a desensitizing effect on disturbing memories. While standard EMDR protocols are used for processing troubling memories that have already become embedded, the recent traumatic episode protocol (R-TEP) can be used to process a recent trauma. R-TEP may promote positive coping and resilience before the memory has had time to cause issues (Shapiro and Laub, 2009).
When a person interested in EMDR meets with a counselor, assessments are first performed to determine if EMDR is appropriate. If suitable, EMDR protocols generally follow the same eight phases as shared by the EMDR Institute (2016):
- History taking and treatment planning
- Identifying targets for desensitization and reprocessing. Targets can be memories, beliefs, or images related to a disturbing event.
- Desensitizing targets using specific scripts and alternating sensations such as eye movements
- Installing a positive belief about the person in the context of the disturbing event
- Internally performing a body scan for any lingering distress
- Concluding the session
- In the next session, reassessing targets processed in the previous session to learn if any changes have occurred
Shapiro and Laub (2009) offer modifications to the standard EMDR protocols when using R-TEP. One is the use of a “Google search” in phase 3, the target identification phase. The person in therapy is asked to scan internally for disturbing targets specific to the incident as if scanning the internet for a phrase or an image (Shapiro and Laub, 2009).
Treating a recent trauma may require only a few sessions. However, it is important for those seeking treatment to maintain realistic expectations about the number of sessions necessary for a history of complex trauma, which can require many sessions.
In phase 4 of R-TEP, the person in therapy tells their story of the incident while experiencing back-and-forth eye movements. The person may be asked to imagine watching the incident on television or from a seat on a train as images of the incident pass by outside the train. This is to increase a person’s sense of safety during the desensitizing phase (Shapiro and Laub, 2009).
If during R-TEP processing a person does not feel less disturbed by the incident, Shapiro and Laub (2009) suggest widening the focus to all associations with the incident. If the felt disturbance still does not reduce, the person may be encouraged to expand focus to unlimited associations, not just those of the incident. This expansion can be used whenever a person becomes stuck in a too-narrow focus (Shapiro and Laub, 2009).
Treating a recent trauma may require only a few sessions (EMDR Institute, Inc., 2016). However, it is important for those seeking treatment to maintain realistic expectations about the number of sessions necessary for a history of complex trauma, which can require many sessions. Factors such as a person’s current coping skills and support system also influence the number of sessions needed.
To learn if EMDR and the R-TEP may be helpful for a recent incident, consult a licensed mental health professional trained in EMDR through a program approved by the EMDR International Association.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Doherty, M. G. (2016). EMDR International Association. Retrieved from http://www.emdria.org/
- EMDR Institute, Inc. (2016). What is EMDR? Retrieved from http://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/
- EMDR International Association. (2016). EMDRIA approved EMDR training. Retrieved from http://www.emdria.org/?page=22
- Shalev, A. Y. (2002). Treating survivors in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events. In R. Yehuda (Ed.), Treating Trauma Survivors with PTSD (157-188). Washington DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.traumacenter.org/resources/pdf_files/Shalev_Early_Treatment.pdf
- Shapiro, E., & Laub, B. (2009). The recent traumatic episode protocol (R-TEP): An Integrative Protocol for Early EMDR Intervention. In M. Luber (Ed.), Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing scripted protocols: Basics and special situations (251-269). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2016). Treatment of PTSD. National Center for PTSD. Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/treatment-ptsd.asp
© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.