November 27, 2023

Adapting EMDR Therapy For Treating Complex PTSD Symptoms.

Discover how EMDR therapy can effectively address complex PTSD. Uncover the potential for healing and recovery.

By Annie Wright|EMDR
Adapting EMDR For Treating Complex PTSD Symptoms.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a widely recognized mental health condition typically associated with a single traumatic event. However, another variant of PTSD, known as Complex PTSD (C-PTSD), emerges from enduring multiple traumatic experiences throughout a person’s life, especially during childhood. 

The question arises: Can Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a therapeutic technique renowned for its effectiveness in treating general PTSD, be adapted to address the intricacies of C-PTSD? 

In this blog, we will delve into the application of EMDR in addressing symptoms associated with complex PTSD. 

Understanding Complex Trauma.

Complex trauma is characterized by the accumulation of traumatic events that transpire over an extended period. 

It often manifests in individuals who endured repeated abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences during their formative years. 

The complexity arises from the interweaving of these experiences, shaping the individual’s mindset and reality. 

To cope, individuals often develop mechanisms to mitigate the impact of trauma, which may have served them well in childhood but can hinder them from leading a fulfilling adult life.

The Prevalence Of Complex Trauma.

Research conducted by Cloitre et al. demonstrates that complex trauma is more common than previously assumed. 

Their study, published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, highlights that a significant portion of individuals seeking treatment for PTSD symptoms actually meet the criteria for C-PTSD. 

This underscores the importance of effective treatment modalities for complex trauma.

Adapting EMDR For Treating Complex PTSD Symptoms.

  • Noting Dysregulation: Before commencing EMDR therapy for C-PTSD, it is imperative to recognize any dysregulation or disassociation. During the initial stages of treatment, while gathering the patient’s history, the therapist should be vigilant for signs of disassociation. Addressing disassociation may need to precede full engagement in EMDR. A study by the EMDR International Association discusses the importance of addressing disassociation in EMDR therapy. The research findings emphasize that disassociation can significantly impact the effectiveness of trauma-focused therapies, including EMDR. Therefore, recognizing and managing disassociation is a crucial step in adapting EMDR for complex trauma cases.
  • Accommodating for Time: EMDR therapy inherently demands time due to the need for therapist-client rapport building, memory processing, and the cultivation of positive coping skills. However, when treating complex PTSD, the timeframe extends further. The sheer volume of thoughts, memories, and experiences associated with C-PTSD necessitates a more extended treatment duration. The precise duration varies depending on individual needs and progress.
  • Time-Intensive Nature of Complex PTSD Treatment: The time-intensive nature of C-PTSD treatment underscores the importance of patience, dedication, and skilled mental health professionals who can guide individuals through the challenging process of healing from prolonged and severe trauma. While it may be a long journey, with the right support and interventions, individuals with C-PTSD can experience significant improvements in their mental and emotional well-being.
  • Unpacking Complex Memories: In EMDR therapy, patients are guided to focus on specific thoughts, memories, or feelings for processing during sessions. Initially, this may be for short durations, gradually increasing over multiple sessions with therapist support. However, in the case of complex PTSD, the therapist and patient have a multitude of memories to sift through, requiring a comprehensive approach.

The Importance Of A Skilled Clinician.

While EMDR can be a potent tool for treating complex PTSD symptoms, its effectiveness hinges on the therapist’s expertise in adapting the protocol to complex trauma. 

In this therapeutic journey, it is imperative to have proficient clinicians trained in complex trauma and EMDR as crucial partners. 

Effectively addressing complex trauma necessitates a specialized approach; some clinicians may lack the requisite training and experience.

The Role Of Therapist Competency.

A meta-analysis conducted by Bisson et al. (2013) and published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress highlights the significant impact of therapist competency on the effectiveness of trauma-focused therapies, including EMDR. 

The research underscores the importance of therapists’ expertise in treating complex trauma to optimize treatment outcomes.

In conclusion, EMDR therapy holds promise as an effective treatment for complex PTSD symptoms.

However, the successful adaptation of EMDR for C-PTSD necessitates crucial modifications. Recognizing disassociation, accommodating an extended treatment timeframe, and meticulously unpacking complex memories are pivotal in addressing the complexities of C-PTSD.

Moreover, finding a well-versed therapist in complex trauma and EMDR is essential for a productive therapeutic relationship. 

With the right clinician and a tailored approach, EMDR therapy can be instrumental in resolving complex trauma and aiding individuals in their path to healing and recovery.

If you’re wondering whether you or someone you know needs help to overcome PTSD symptoms, and you connected with any part of this post and are presently searching for a counselor, we would be honored to offer our support to you.

At Evergreen Counseling, we understand the importance of finding a therapist who resonates with you.

We invite you to take the next step toward your well-being by booking a complimentary 20-minute consultation call with us

Explore our website, reach out to us here, or call us at 510-373-2723 to schedule your consultation.


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