Yesterday an acquaintance on social media sent me a private message. She had a question about a type of trauma treatment called EMDR. If you don’t know what EMDR is, check out this video. It looks woo-woo, but it is actually a powerful tool that many therapists use. Military clinicians are trained in this type of therapy to use with combat vets. Here’s her question:
In your opinion, does EMDR make sexual abuse victims more sexually functional? Like, would they need to avoid all their triggers afterwards?
Even though I counsel sexual abuse survivors, and I use EMDR for various trauma situations, I told her I would put it on my Facebook page anonymously to see what others had to say. I had a lot of response. Here are some of the answers.
A Licensed Professional Counselor shared:
EMDR is the treatment of choice for sexual abuse though a female EMDR provider (assuming the victim is female?) is preferred.
*I (Lucille) actually disagree with the part that says a female clinician is preferred. Yes, for some female patients a female would be preferable. But either gender would be good as long as the therapist has clear boundaries and understands the devastation to their clients if they were to ever cross a boundary. Not to get you bogged down, but clients will have difference transference reactions based on the clinician they see.
Here’s another person’s response:
The therapist used EMDR to help him process differing forms of abuse: sexual, physical, spiritual, emotional. He claims it is what really helped him process his life experiences, and has helped facilitate his long term sobriety from all acting out behaviors. There is no way he can avoid all his triggers. But he has learned tools to help him manage his triggers so he doesn’t break sobriety . . . I personally feel EMDR has also helped him be less reactive to life. He used to have very bad anger issues. In fact he had been through anger management treatment three different times prior to his sexual addiction coming to light. So as someone who has lived with him on both sides of life, before and after EMDR, I say it made a world of difference for him. He still has the memories of his abuse, but the memories don’t trigger strong emotion in him.
Here is another response I received:
I just saw your question regarding EMDR and sexual abuse survivors. I was abused between the ages of 2 and 14 – the abuse was ongoing and frequent throughout those 12 years. I ended up doing 12 years of intensive, weekly therapy with Christian counselors as an adult. I did many EMDR sessions. My experience is that no, it didn’t make me more “functional” sexually — but I was also in a long-term emotionally and sexually abusive marriage, so. It did help though, both with PTSD symptoms and with flashbacks during sex. It didn’t remove or replace the memories I worked through in EMDR, but it “took the edge off” those memories. Where once they were sharp, painful, and sometimes debilitating, now they’re blurred at the edges.
When some of those memories come to mind now, I can either think about them or let them go. They no longer have any control over me. Had I been in a healthy marriage, I think the EMDR would have been very helpful in terms of my sexual relationship with my husband. Anyway, that information may not be too helpful, but I am a huge believer in the power of EMDR — a true gift from God.
And lastly, a therapist—Dr. Earl Henslin—who has used EMDR with a large number of sexually abused people:
Yes EMDR does help people enjoy their sexuality. There are no need to avoid triggers …not sure actually what you mean by that… if there is a trigger it becomes a target for EMDR. Literally I have had 1000’s of sessions helping men and women recovery from sexual trauma of all types. I utlilze EMDR, inner child work, thought field therapy, and have developed a prayer procedure that go through with patient integrating the above methodolgies. I also have a model out of scripture that I teach from the beginning of therapy that integrates spirutality and sexuality. Have had many women come in as they have worked through trauma and talk about being in a state of joy and ectasy in prayer and experience orgasms, which some of the Saints did experience. So hopefully that answers your question. Feel free to email me if you have a question about anything dealing with the above at firstname.lastname@example.org Blessings!
I hope this was helpful. Thanks to my friend for asking the question.
Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Littleton, CO and an affiliate faculty teacher at Colorado Christian University.
She is also the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World. Through practical ideas and relatable anecdotes, readers can better understand their strengths and their passions—and address some of the underlying struggles or hurts that make them want to keep busy or minister to others to the detriment of themselves. Renewed can help nurture those areas of women’s lives to use them better for work, family, and service. It gives readers permission to examine where they spend their energy and time, and learn to set limits and listen to “that inner voice."