EMDR therapy is getting a lot of press right now, and for good reasons: it works incredibly well for the treatment of trauma. Experts tell us that 70-90% of people have experienced significant trauma, with 8-20% of those people developing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). There’s a huge gap in the number of people who are living with issues related to trauma and coping with their emotional disturbances, anxiety, and stress, as well as body pain or other physical issues.
Why do we need alternatives to EMDR therapy?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR is a psychotherapy technique that’s used to reduce the negative emotional impact of traumatic events. EMDR is a trauma therapy that works very well, and at the same time, it may not be accessible to everyone.
EMDR may be too intense for some people as it relies on recalling a past traumatic event with a therapist. Not only can that be intense, but many people don’t consciously recognize that they have experienced a traumatic event. We often hear things like “But nothing that bad has ever happened to me.”
Additionally, only licensed psychologists can be certified to use EMDR as trauma therapy. This means many professionals who work with undiagnosed trauma in clients, like the coaches, rehab professionals, and other human development professionals that we train must use alternative trauma-sensitive tools when they encounter clients dealing with various degrees of hidden trauma. Fortunately, there are three alternatives to EMDR therapy that can be used to help heal trauma and PTSD.
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Trauma
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) uses the person’s thoughts and behaviors to look at the relationships that cause them distress. It is a talking treatment that can help people talk about distressing moments or memories, explore their attitudes and beliefs about things around them, and understand how these contribute to problems they may have with anxiety or depression.
Patients are taught ways to cope with the memories of their traumas in a healthy way. CBT is an alternative to EMDR therapy because it focuses on thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and places more attention on how an individual’s perspective affects their reactions. They are given controlled exposure to the traumatic memory, without reliving it, while trying new methods of coping at the same time.
While learning to think differently about a traumatic event can be beneficial, talking about it doesn’t work for everyone. For some people, talking about it brings the trauma to the surface without having effective mechanisms to manage internal and external experiences, and could even make symptoms of PTSD worse.
2. The Cross Mapping Method
The Cross Mapping Method is an alternative to EMDR therapy that involves using a combination of neuroscience, mindfulness, and energy medicine to guide a client in discovering and amplifying hidden strengths within themselves. The goal is to find healthy and productive ways of modifying trauma-related symptoms, and emotions instead of coping with them in unhealthy ways. This approach can help people engage with their own sense of empowerment and gain a sense of partnership with their bodies and sensations.
Gently accepting fears and pain is one of the missing pieces of the puzzle. It allows us to move from reductionism, where we see things as isolated parts, to integration. With integration comes an understanding that every part of our lives affects other parts. Separation no longer makes sense here because in reality there are few absolutes – possibilities are endless and everything is a cycle. Traumas create cycles within cycles – loops of fear, anxiety, and depression that can spiral downwards or upwards without intervention.
Cycles can only be interrupted when we understand them on a somatic level by engaging with our bodies and learning to make different and empowered choices on that somatic level. The body keeps track far better than the brain as Bessel van der Kolk describes in his book, The Body Keeps The Score.
The Cross Mapping Method interrupts these loops and focuses your mind and thoughts on sensations you are currently experiencing but may not be fully aware of at the moment, and then builds on that awareness to create empowered choice points growth.
3. Somatic Coaching: An Alternative to EMDR Therapy
For other trauma-sensitive approaches like EMDR, somatic coaching can sometimes be a better option or supplement. We use Sensation Based Motivation Coaching, which doesn’t necessarily rely on the person’s memories to activate and process the experience nor relive the trauma. It’s more about reprogramming the physical sensations in the body in order to modify their emotional connection with that pain.
Somatic coaching has been used successfully by treating PTSD-related symptoms in Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and sexual assault survivors feeling triggered by recent incidents, but the patient doesn’t necessarily have to have an issue top of mind for this to work.
Sensation Based Motivation Coaching does not require clients to recall past traumatic events – all they need is a desire to grow and experience more inner peace. So even if someone is feeling a manifestation of anxiety, stress, or pain in their body, there is the option to experience something different; helping clients focus on what is happening in their current reality, instead of intrusive thoughts.
A lot of people experience trauma and not all are able to get help. This is because not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD or other diagnosable mental health issues. Common issues like chronic body pain, anxiety, stress, depression, and repeated ineffective behaviors or thought patterns can all be signs that someone is blocked by past trauma.
By using these 3 alternatives to EMDR therapy, more professionals can help their clients successfully navigate their trauma responses and live more full and self-actualized lives.