A conversation with therapist Vanessa Vaughter about the benefits of EMDR therapy
The Center hosted an EMDR clinician training in May and June facilitated by staff therapists Vanessa Vaughter, LCSW, MDIV, (seated right) and Rachel Murphy, LCSW-S, LCDC (seated left). If you are a licensed clinician and interested in being trained to provide EMDR, click here or on the EMDR box below for the next training in September.
What was your background prior to becoming a therapist?
I’ve been blessed with a wide range of career opportunities including a flight attendant, front office manager of hotels, youth minister, pastor, corporate trainer, dating violence prevention educator and advocate, and now a clinical social worker/therapist.
Did counseling find you or did you find counseling?
Counseling definitely found me! During recuperation from a major surgery, I decided to leave my corporate job. As much as I loved traveling around the world training other trainers, God was calling me to do something else – to make a difference in the lives of others, raising awareness to the pain and suffering of so many, as well as finding a way to help. I was able to attend grad school full-time to earn my master’s in social work. That degree, combined with my Master of Divinity allows me to sit with others, provide a sacred space for them to express and heal from their pain. As I reflect on my life, including many careers, travel, and education experiences, I realize God has used each to bring me to this place to do the sacred work I am privileged to do.
What is EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference.
How did you learn about EMDR and why EMDR?
The first time I heard about EMDR was in my therapist’s office. She helped me through some work-related trauma and I was hooked! Fifteen years later, when I became a therapist working with teen and adult survivors of domestic violence, I knew I wanted to offer EMDR. Thanks to my corporate training experience and now having the knowledge of EMDR, I felt called to become an EMDR Trainer. It took seven years, lots of clients and facilitating trainings for others, but I made it. I'm excited to offer this amazing therapeutic model and technique to other therapists – it will change how they do therapy and more importantly, the lives of their clients.
How has EMDR impacted/transformed how you care for clients?
EMDR holds a trauma-focused view of clients’ struggles. Whether the client is suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic physical pain or a combination of many these are often the result of experiencing trauma at some point in their lives. By helping clients understand it is not who you are, but what has happened to you that has led to the way they see themselves we are able to shift their negative self-belief from “I am worthless” or “I am unsafe” to “I am worthy” to “I am loved.” EMDR is the lens through which I view a client’s story, seeing the beautiful child of God that is within and help them come to believe they truly ARE a child loved deeply by God through coming to love themselves.
What’s the biggest benefit of EMDR?
EMDR allows a client who has suffered traumatic experiences to look at the experience without being flooded or overwhelmed by the intense, deeply painful or even terrifying emotions they felt at the time the trauma and each time they think about it. It's a “kinder” way to process painful and impactful moments that shaped their view of themselves, which then affects how they see others and the world. When a client is able to see themselves as worthy, they are able to see others and the world through a lens of hope, rather than fear.
What ages benefit the most from EMDR?
EMDR is one of the most researched therapies. It has been used with all ages, including infants who experienced traumatic births, children who have been abused or experienced adoption, as well as teens and adults. There are EMDR techniques for play therapy and group therapy, as well as individual therapy with teens and adults. I have treated kids as young as 11 and adults in their 70s who still suffered from the trauma of childhood abuse.
Have you used EMDR with military and police officers?
EMDR has been proven to be effective in treating the experiences of military personnel, police officers and first responders. The first two phases of EMDR’s 8-phase protocol involve taking a client’s history and providing tools that calm the client’s traumatized limbic system. When the actual processing of the memory occurs, they have already learned to calm themselves and the intensity of the memory is often lessened simply by knowing they have the tools and ability to manage big emotions. Another benefit is the client doesn't need to describe the event in detail to the clinician, only a snapshot of the part that troubles them the worst. I have guided clients through the protocol and effectively reprocessed their trauma without them describing even the snapshot because they felt it was too horrible to have to speak. It is their journey to healing, I am just privileged to be their guide. After the processing, they report no emotional disturbance from the memory.
What do clinicians need to know about EMDR training?
Clinicians who have been in practice awhile know even the most functional clients have often experienced trauma in their lives. It may be a natural disaster, a horrific car wreck or sexual assault. It might be when they stood in front of their second-grade class and students laughed at them or when their parent said something hurtful. EMDR can efficiently and effectively help with a wide variety of traumas. EMDR involves not only the thinking brain, but connects with the full experience – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, internal emotions and body sensations – that were locked together in the moment of trauma along with a belief about themselves the person developed in that moment. It is a holistic approach that allows a client’s symptoms to decrease more rapidly and gently than many other forms of therapy. There are some clients for which EMDR is not appropriate, or at least not without a very experienced EMDR clinician. Clients living with schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder or dissociative identity disorder can be helped with EMDR by an experienced EMDR clinician.
What’s the feedback you’ve received from other clinicians?
Other clinicians have consulted with me after their training and said, “I can’t believe it worked! It’s almost magical!” Clinicians find EMDR to be less stressful and notice a reduction in secondary trauma because they are able to help the client heal without hearing the difficult and painful details of the incident. It should be noted that while EMDR is a most efficient and effective modality, that does not mean it only takes a few session for clients with complex trauma or PTS. Time may be spent in the stabilization phase to ensure the client can regulate themselves emotionally, but that's part of any proper treatment.
Therapy and Assessments at The Center
The Center has nine EMDR trained therapists, including four who are bilingual. For more information about EMDR or to schedule an appointment for therapy or an assessment at The Center’s Central Office or one of its Network Offices across North and Central Texas, call 214-526-4525 or go to www.thecentercounseling.org/team to learn more.