• What are TF-CBT and EMDR and How Can They Help Trauma Survivors?

    Traumatic events can be life-alerting. Lingering effects from trauma can make day-to-day events difficult and enjoyment of life feel far off. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are treatments that can help.

    You may have never heard of Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) or Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) before, but both are highly successful treatments for those struggling with recovering from past trauma. And, both are offered by trained professionals at CW Psychological Services.

    To shine a light on these helpful therapies, this blog post will highlight the uses and benefits of each therapy.

    What is TF-CBT?

    TF-CBT is a therapeutic approach designed to help children and adolescents, aged 3-18 years of age, and their parents overcome traumatic events. It is most often used to help survivors of sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence, community violence, unexpected death of a loved one, natural disasters, and war. (source: tfcbt.org)

    How does TF-CBT work?

    The goal of TF-CBT is to help a child or adolescent to develop coping strategies for traumatic stress reactions. It is designed to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and acting out behavior which can be common in children exposed to trauma.

    Sessions involve one-on-one interactions between the therapeutic provider and the child as well as for the provider and the parent. Joint sessions with parent and child also occur.

    In sessions, the child and parent will discuss the details of the trauma in a supportive and nurturing environment. The therapist will reassure the child that the trauma was not their fault and they are not alone in their experience. They will learn how to identify feelings and manage them. They will learn how to relax when faced with trauma reminders and how to resolve problems and learn safety skills. The child will also learn how to identify negative thoughts and replace them with more positive ones.

    As the trauma narrative is developed in the child’s mind, the events of the trauma will gradually be replaced with more helpful thoughts. Over time, the powerful traumatic reminders will start to lose their impact on the child and become less frequent.

    Parents will discuss their feelings and thoughts during sessions and learn techniques to assist their child with healing.

    What is EMDR?

    EMDR is a type of therapy that involves helping the brain to reprocess trapped memories, typically those related to trauma in a person’s life. It works by using a technique called bilateral stimulation to repeatedly activate opposite sides of the brain. Therapists often use eye movements to facilitate bilateral stimulation. These eye movements mimic the period of sleep referred to as Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep. This portion of sleep is frequently considered to be the time when the mind processes events in a person’s life.

    EMDR helps the brain reprocess the trapped memories in such a way that normal information processing is resumed. Therapists often use EMDR to help clients uncover and process beliefs that developed as a result of relational trauma or childhood abuse and/or neglect.

    Less Talking, More Healing

    Unlike with TF-CBT, EMDR involves less talking. Talking can often be daunting for a person struggling with past trauma, who fears reliving that trauma. EMDR is different.

    During EMDR treatments, you aren’t required to describe the traumatic event at all. EMDR treatment is often described as being a passenger on a moving train and seeing different events from your life quickly and quietly pass through the windows.

    Typically, the client will choose a comfortable spot to sit and keep their head still. The client will be asked to think about a traumatic memory. The therapist will hold up his/her hand and move it side-to-side as the client focuses on the hand. As the eyes move back and forth, the brain is somehow allowed to process the trauma, making it easier for the client to work through it.

    This process helps the client to deal with any repressed feelings of fear or anger, giving them back control. This treatment is considered successful when the client can recall the memory without any negative bodily reactions.

    When receiving EMDR therapy, you and your therapist will determine a code phrase or word. That word can be used if the therapy becomes too intense. You and your therapist are working together to create an emotional-safe space where you can freely let go of past trauma.

    What does EMDR help?

    EMDR was originally established as a treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It has since also been proven useful in treating a variety of other conditions including panic attacks, complicated grief, dissociative disorders, disturbing memories, phobias, pain disorders, performance anxiety, addictions, stress reduction, sexual and/or physical abuse, body dysmorphic disorders, and personality disorders. For a more detailed explanation of EMDR, visit EMDR Institute, Inc.

    Seeking Help

    Trauma doesn’t have to control your life. You can heal and feel safe again. Our trained counselors and therapists help clients from around the state of Pennsylvania. If you are interested in learning more about TF-CBT or EMDR and whether they could help you or your child heal from trauma, contact us at CW Psychological Services.

    Ready to begin counseling in Pennsylvania?

    Counselors and associate-level clinicians at CW Psychological Services are professionally trained. We have openings for online, or telehealth, therapy appointments. Email us at [email protected] or call at (610) 308-7575. We are here for you.