A Quick, Effective Treatment for PTSD

Trauma is something you may think only happens to other people, but it is more common than you might guess. In fact, 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. That could include suffering an injury or a sexual assault, witnessing violence, participating in combat in the military or suffering a loss or shock during an upsetting event like Superstorm Sandy.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs in a certain percentage of those who experience trauma. It’s estimated that 11 to 20 percent of our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are affected. Some 30 percent of Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD.

I have many patients who have this potentially crippling disorder. Symptoms of PTSD can include nightmares, insomnia, anxiety and depression, headaches, joint and belly pain, just to name a few. Most experience emotional pain and suffering on a daily basis.

Fortunately, I have found a treatment that has worked on all of those who are willing to try it. It is called eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR). It is quick, safe and effective. Most of my patients need only a total of four treatments. It is remarkable.

In 1987, psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro realized that eye movements can diminish the intensity of disturbing thoughts. As a result of this observation, she developed a specific protocol involving eye movements and/or tapping to treat PTSD.

EMDR can change the way that we process painful and traumatic memories. Subjects will still remember the events, but without the emotional attachment. I have a great therapist to whom I refer the majority of my patients. She explains the therapy in the following manner:

Picture driving a flatbed truck. All your emotional baggage is in the back of that truck. You leave the bed down and start to drive. Watching in the rearview mirror, you can see the stuff flying out the back. You just keep on driving and leave it there.

I have seen remarkable changes. I know it sounds like voodoo, but it is a very effective therapy. There have been at least 20 controlled studies conducted on the use of EMDR. A study done at Kaiser Permanente found that 100 percent of people who suffered a single trauma and 77 percent of those with a history of multiple traumas no longer had PTSD. They were treated with only six 50-minute sessions. In another study, 77 percent of combat veterans no longer suffered from PTSD after 12 sessions.

EMDR is now an established therapy that is done by psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists who have received special training. The biggest challenge I have had is convincing my patients to try it. Once they do it, the results are nothing short of a miracle.

If you or someone you know is suffering with PTSD, you might want to look into finding a therapist who does EMDR. There is an EMDR network that can help you to find a therapist in your area. Your primary care provider may also be able to help your search.

Do you know someone who suffered from PTSD? What helped them overcome it? Let us know in the comment below.

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Robin Miller

Dr. Robin Miller, Sharecare Editorial Advisory Board Member, currently practices Internal Medicine and serves as the medical director of Triune Integrative Medicine, a highly innovative Integrative Medicine clinic in Medford, Oregon. She has produced the award-winning health series, “Is there a Doctor in the House,” which is shown nationwide on the GE-sponsored Patient Channel, and is the author of "Kids Ask the Doctor" and the co-author of “The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife and Beyond: A No-Nonsense Approach to Staying Healthy after 50".

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