Thaddeus Heffner is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the greater Nashville, Tennessee area. We recently sat down with Thaddeus Heffner to answer some questions regarding the use of EMDR in dealing with trauma.
A Gathering of Experts: Welcome, Thaddeus Heffner and thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. We have been hearing about a new type of therapy called EMDR. Can you explain exactly what EMDR is?
Thaddeus Heffner: Of course. EMDR is an acronym for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. It is a quite a mouthful, but put simply it is the utilization of bilateral stimulation to desensitize trauma in a person.
A Gathering of Experts: What do you mean by bilateral stimulation?
Thaddeus Heffner: Bilateral stimulation simply means we get the left hemisphere of the brain to talk to the right hemisphere of the brain by using a basic means of stimulation such as a client following my fingers with his eyes as I move them back and forth horizontally, or by having them hold their hands palm up and then tapping their hands one at a time, left – right – left – right, etc.
A Gathering of Experts: How does bilateral stimulation fit in with helping desensitize trauma in a client?
Thaddeus Heffner: Let me back up a step. Our senses take in data and that data comes first through the left hemisphere of the brain and then processes over to the right hemisphere of the brain. This is how the brain talks. When something traumatic happens, be it simple or complex trauma, the traumatic data comes into the left hemisphere of the brain but then gets stuck in the nervous system. It never processes over to the right hemisphere. Later on, when something triggers the trauma, the client can feel as though they are reliving the trauma all over again.
A Gathering of Experts: It sounds as though the person is stuck in a trauma loop? They continue to repeat the old traumatic story over and over again. So how does EMDR help desensitize the trauma?
Thaddeus Heffner: In short, after the client recalls a traumatic memory in which even physiological sensations may arise, the therapist would then implement bilateral stimulation. This helps stimulate the left and right hemispheres of the brain to begin talking. Think of it like priming a pump before starting an engine. In doing this, trauma becomes “unstuck” from the nervous system and begins to finish processing over to the right hemisphere of the brain. The intense emotions of fear, anxiety, sadness, etc are finally felt and begin to diminish. When the disturbance level of the trauma is diminished then we would turn to helping the client increase a positive belief about themselves that would be the antithesis of the original trauma.
A Gathering of Experts: Could you give us an example?
Thaddeus Heffner: Certainly. An example might be that a client who was mugged ten years ago still feels “unsafe.” Once the trauma around feeling unsafe is desensitized we would then work at increasing a positive belief such as, “I am safe” or “I am safe now.”
A Gathering of Experts: Do you utilize EMDR often in your own practice?
Thaddeus Heffner: I do. I find that it is very helpful for many different presenting issues that clients bring to therapy. Depending on the trauma a person is presenting with, EMDR has shown to have up to an 80 – 90% success rate.
Thaddeus Heffner is a Brentwood, Tennessee-based counselor who owns his own practice. A graduate of Trevecca University in Nashville, Thaddeus Heffner is a member in good standing of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT). For more information about Thaddeus Heffner therapist, visit www.thaddeusheffner.com.