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This light therapy is helping some with painful memories heal

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, uses a light bar to mirror the movement that happens during REM sleep.

Whether big moments or a collection of small experiences, painful memories plague nearly everyone. 

For those having a difficult time processing trauma, a unique therapy is gaining momentum and many who have used it say it provides almost "magical" results.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is “a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories,” the EMDR Institute website explains.

The idea is to help people who have been through a distressing experience heal.

Eric Hurst, with South Metro Fire Rescue, was one of those people struggling with some of the trauma he had seen in his many years working with the department.

“I was 17 years old and responded to a fatal car accident that involved a girl who I went to high school with,” Hurst said. “It’s all those little things that just start to add up over time.”

While Googling for something he could do, he found EMDR. It’s a therapy that has been around for about 25 years.

Trained therapists use a light bar and a tapping technique to help patients reprocess traumatic memories. This procedure is supposed to help the brain activate its “natural healing process,” the EMDR website says.

“At first it can feel really awkward for the client to be sitting there and trying to follow these lights while thinking about an experience,” EMDR therapist Tamra Hughes said.

Hughes is the owner and founder of Greenwood Counseling Center. She started training in EMDR therapy in 2003. Now Hughes is an EMDR therapist and an EMDR-approved consultant and has a training business called EMDR Center of the Rockies where she trains close to 100 people a year.

She says EMDR is “fast growing” because it’s so effective.

It’s not hypnosis and it’s not a cure. It lets people remember an experience without triggering a negative reaction.

“It makes those experiences more manageable,” Hughes said. “It changes our behavior, it changes the way we feel about those experiences and the way, as a result, we interact with people and the way we interact and respond to other experiences.”

This is because the eye movements are thought to be similar to what happens during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. During a series of treatments, the EMDR Institute claims patients are able to transform the meaning of painful events as the internal association with them arise.

“What EMDR did for me was allow me to be able to describe it just like I did now,” Hurst said after talking about one of the accident scenes he responded to. “I didn’t forget any of the memories, but I can talk about it and I’m okay.”

You can learn more about EMDR treatment through the EMDR Center of the Rockies. They offer training and consultation for clinicians and more information about the research behind the techniques.

Those interested in trying EMDR therapy can contact the Greenwood Counseling Center in the Denver Tech Center or any EMDR certified therapist.

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