EMDR, Sandtray, and Trauma Treatment

““Psychologists usually try to help people use insight and understanding to manage their behavior. However, neuroscience research shows that very few psychological problems are the result of defects in understanding; most originate in pressures from deeper regions in the brain that drive our perception and attention. When the alarm bell of the emotional brain keeps signaling that you are in danger, no amount of insight will silence it.” 
― Bessel A. van der Kolk

In my early years as a counselor, I was primarily taught to use insight-oriented therapies – that is, if I could teach clients a different way to think or behave, their problems would be resolved. Sometimes, this worked – but all too often, it did not. I found myself increasingly frustrated: I entered this profession to help people who were hurting, but the tools I had were proving inadequate. During this time, I began to research various trauma treatment approaches and received training in sandtray therapy. Sandtray therapy involves placing small objects called miniatures into a rectangular sandbox; it is thought that the tray itself provides distance for the client to work safely with his or her inner world. Sandtray also helps our logical left brains communicate with and integrate traumatic information stored in our emotional, image-based right brains. I found myself fascinated by the results I saw using sandtray therapy with clients: in one session of sandtray, more progress was often made than in several weeks of talk therapy. After reading van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score (2013), I pursued basic and advanced training in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), an evidence-based treatment approach which helps the brain better process traumatic or difficult memories through the use of bilateral stimulation (eye movements that cross the midline, buzzing sensations in each hand, or even sound in each ear). Is the road to a calmer, less highly charged life easy? Of course not. But I can assure clients that these tools strongly increase the likelihood that they will find resolution to problems that may have plagued them for years.