EMDR Treatment for Traumatised U.S. Military Women

Trauma can come in many forms and affect multiple senses. Touch, smell, hearing, and even taste may be involved; but often, the strongest sensory input is through the eyes. It seems reasonable, then, that one of the most effective treatments for trauma directly involves the eyes and their connection to the brain. Discover how eye movement densensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is helping military women cope with the shock and horror that they have experienced.

A Moment of Trauma, Years of Pain

For Elana Duffy, former Sergeant First Class in the U.S. Army, the most physically traumatic event during her service occurred in a few short moments. A bomb by the side of the road exploded, kicking her Humvee into the air and throwing her around inside the vehicle. She suffered a brain injury, but the worst pain was still to come.

Years after the incident, Duffy was still feeling angry. Her emotions were still painfully raw, and the negativity was destroying her emotionally and mentally. She thought at first that her mental state was connected to the brain injury; but the physical trauma was only part of the problem.

Deeper Causes of Emotional Distress

After the Humvee accident in 2008, Duffy continued working in Iraq as a military intelligence officer. She had to make friends with certain individuals, some of whom were responsible for the deaths of her friends and fellow service members. She used various methods to extract the information she needed— a mentally challenging and emotionally grueling process. It was this ongoing responsibility, in addition to her head trauma, that left Duffy in a very vulnerable mental state.

Mental Health for Women in the Military

According to research, women in the military, whether in the United States or in other nations, are simply not getting the mental care they need. Women in the U.S. military suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder at a higher rate since September 11, 2001— in fact, experts estimate that 30-50% of female veterans suffer from ongoing anxiety or depression. To make matters worse, military women are also targets for military sexual trauma, with one in five suffering such an incident.

Singapore Armed Forces and Trauma Risk

Female military service members in Singapore are equally at risk, especially if they have served in a war zone. In late 2017, a group of soldiers from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) were honored for their service in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). During combat with terror groups such as ISIS, military men and women see and experience some terrible things.

When they return home, it’s important for traumatised service members to prioritise their mental health in Singapore. They need prompt professional care to ensure that the trauma doesn’t become buried and cause additional mental health problems.

A Unique Approach to Therapy with EMDR

One way to approach trauma treatment is through eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a technique that allows victims of post-traumatic stress disorder to recover more quickly. Regular psychotherapies involve exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy— and while these options are valid and helpful, they can take months or years to achieve complete results for the patient. EMDR works much faster.

The EMDR Process

The technique of EMDR seems odd at first. Basically, the therapists moves his or her finger or an object quickly back and forth, in front of the patient’s face. The patient tracks the movement quickly with both eyes, side to side, side to side. During the rapid eye movements, the patient thinks about a particular disturbing event, focusing on the traumatic memories.

No one is sure how EMDR really works; but somehow, it rewires the brain and softens the emotional association and mental trauma related a particular event. After the therapy, the patient can still remember the event, but the mental reaction isn’t as severe. The emotional pain is less debilitating. So the EMDR technique can offer some quick relief to trauma victims, enabling them to move forward more quickly to a state of better mental health.

A Possible Explanation

While the experts can’t say for certain, they have theories about why EMDR is so effective. When people sleep, they experience rapid eye movements. This phase of sleep is known as REM sleep, and it’s the part of sleep in which most of the body’s healing and processing occurs. The brain goes through the information from the day, and it sometimes produces dreams that may or may not relate to fears, anxieties, or experiences from waking hours.

The theory is that EMDR mimics this phase of processing information and flushing out unnecessary data. It may trick the brain into softening the traumatic events so that they are recalled less vividly or powerfully, like a bad dream.

The Long-Term Importance of Therapy

Whatever the underlying reasons, EMDR works. It offers relief to trauma victims, helping them overcome the anger and deal with the stress resulting from their experiences. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to keep military men and women in therapy long enough for them to see lasting results. If the initial appointments allotted by the military are too short, the service members may not see immediate results and may decide not to come back for follow-up. It’s important to educate the veterans about a realistic timetable for recovery, and to emphasise the importance of healing the mind as well as the body.

Treatment for Military Trauma

If you or someone you know has been traumatised during military service or from some other event, seek help as soon as possible. If you wait, the trauma may become more deep-seated and can incite stress responses, anger, and anxiety. Visit Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic – Psychiatrists and Psychologists for Mental Health in Singapore and discover EMDR therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy that can help you cope with the terrible events in your past. With care from an expert psychiatrist in Singapore, you can recover your mental balance.

Article by Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic