PTSD Therapy: Unpacking the Benefits of Acceptance Commitment Therapy and EMDR. June is PTSD Awareness Month, a dedicated time to educate and spread awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a therapist trained in both Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

I have had the privilege of helping individuals navigate their journey to healing.

PTSD therapy is a crucial component in helping individuals overcome the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Two effective approaches in this realm are Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). In this blog post, we will delve into the benefits of these two therapeutic modalities and explore how they can aid in the healing process for those struggling with PTSD.

a woman cowering with PTSD/Therapy for PTSD/ Birmingham AL

Understanding PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. PTSD can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background, and can arise from various traumatic experiences such as combat, natural disasters, accidents, or personal assaults.

Symptoms of PTSD can include:

● Intrusive Memories: Flashbacks, nightmares, and severe emotional distress related to

the trauma.

● Avoidance: Avoiding places, people, and activities that remind one of the trauma.

● Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood: Feelings of hopelessness, detachment,

uncontrollable thoughts, and difficulty maintaining close relationships.

● Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions: Being easily startled, feeling tense, or

experiencing outbursts of anger.

These symptoms can severely impact daily life, making it crucial to seek effective treatment.

People suffering from PTSD might find themselves reliving the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares, which can lead to severe anxiety or uncontrollable thoughts about the trauma.

Moreover, avoidance behaviors, such as steering clear of places, events, or objects that remind them of the experience, are common, as well as emotional numbness and feelings of detachment from others. The condition can also lead to irritability, aggressive behavior, hypervigilance, and an exaggerated startle response. The cumulative effect of these symptoms can severely impair an individual’s capacity for social interaction, work productivity, and overall quality of life, making effective therapy modalities like Acceptance Commitment Therapy and EMDR crucial for recovery and rehabilitation.

a woman with outstretched arms looking at the sun

Healing Through ACT and EMDR

Both ACT and EMDR offer unique and powerful approaches to treating PTSD, helping individuals process their trauma and move toward a more balanced, fulfilling life. Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT)ACT is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes accepting what is out of one’s control and committing to actions that improve and enrich life. Here’s how ACT helps those with PTSD:

● Acceptance: ACT teaches individuals to accept their traumatic memories and feelings

rather than avoid them. This acceptance reduces the power these memories have over

their lives.

● Cognitive Defusion: This technique helps clients to observe their thoughts without

getting entangled in them. It’s about seeing thoughts as they are (just thoughts) and not

what they say they are.

● Present Moment Awareness: Mindfulness practices help clients stay grounded in the

present, reducing the impact of past trauma.

● Values-Based Living: ACT encourages individuals to identify their core values and

commit to actions aligned with these values, fostering a sense of purpose and direction.

This therapy encourages people to observe their inner experiences from a place of compassion and curiosity, making it possible to engage in behaviors that are congruent with their personal values and life goals, even in the presence of painful emotions and memories.

ACT posits that pain and suffering are a natural part of the human experience and that attempting to control or avoid unpleasant internal experiences often leads to increased distress. By fostering an attitude of openness and acceptance, individuals learn to navigate their life in a way that is meaningful to them, despite the presence of PTSD symptoms.

Through targeted exercises and dialogue, therapists guide individuals in recognizing their values, committing to action in line with those values, and employing mindfulness techniques to maintain a non-judgmental, present-focused stance.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for PTSD Therapy

EMDR is a structured therapy that helps individuals process and integrate traumatic memories through bilateral stimulation (usually eye movements or tapping). Here’s how EMDR works:

1. History Taking: The therapist gathers the client’s history and identifies traumatic


2. Preparation: The therapist builds a trusting relationship with the client and teaches them

self-soothing techniques to apply when reprocessing painful memories.

3. Assessment: Specific memories and their associated negative beliefs are identified.

4. Desensitization: Bilateral stimulation is used to process the traumatic memory.

5. Installation: Positive beliefs are reinforced to replace negative ones.

6. Body Scan: The client checks for any remaining physical tension related to the trauma.

7. Closure: Each session ends with the client feeling safe and grounded.

8. Reevaluation: Progress is reviewed, and any remaining issues are addressed.

This stimulation is believed to help unlock and reprocess traumatic memories, reducing their hold on the individual. During EMDR sessions, therapists guide clients to briefly focus on the traumatic memory while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation, which can include eye movements, taps, or tones.

This process is designed to diminish the emotional impact associated with the memory, making it less distressing. The goal is not to forget the trauma but to significantly lessen its emotional burden, enabling individuals to move forward with a greater sense of personal power and emotional freedom. EMDR stands out for its ability to facilitate the processing of traumatic memories without requiring extensive verbal recounting of the trauma, making it a less verbally intensive approach than traditional talk therapies.

two puzzle pieces indicating the synergy of ACT and EMDR

The Synergy of ACT and EMDR in PTSD Therapy

The combination of Acceptance Commitment Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing presents a multifaceted approach to managing PTSD. By integrating the strengths of ACT and EMDR, individuals are offered a holistic path toward recovery.

ACT focuses on enhancing psychological flexibility, teaching individuals to live in alignment with their values despite the pain of their past traumas. This method prepares the ground for EMDR’s targeted processing of traumatic memories by creating an environment where individuals are more open to confronting and reprocessing these memories without overwhelming resistance.

The simultaneous use of ACT’s acceptance and mindfulness strategies with EMDR’s memory desensitization techniques facilitates a deeper, more enduring healing process. This dual approach supports not just the alleviation of symptoms but also a transformative journey towards a more fulfilling and engaged life, even in the aftermath of trauma.

Through ACT, individuals learn to navigate their lives with greater emotional agility, while EMDR helps to lessen the emotional intensity of traumatic memories, making them manageable and less intrusive. The synergy between these therapies enables a comprehensive treatment experience that addresses the multifaceted nature of PTSD, offering paths to healing that are both profound and pragmatic.

a woman suffering for PTSD memories/ Counseling for PTSD/ Birmingham 35223

The Role of Acceptance in Healing from PTSD

In the journey toward overcoming PTSD, embracing acceptance stands as a pivotal step. This entails a conscious acknowledgment of their emotions, memories, and present experiences without judgment or resistance. The practice of acceptance does not imply resignation or passive endurance of pain. Instead, it represents a transformative shift in perspective that empowers individuals to acknowledge their reality while striving toward personal growth and resilience.

Embracing acceptance aids in breaking the cycle of avoidance and denial that often exacerbates PTSD symptoms. It facilitates a more compassionate and understanding relationship with oneself, laying the foundation for genuine healing. Within the context of ACT, acceptance is seen as an essential strategy for cultivating psychological flexibility, allowing individuals to move beyond the confines of their traumatic experiences.

This approach encourages individuals to live fully in the present moment, engaging with life in a meaningful way despite the challenges posed by PTSD. Acceptance, therefore, is not an endpoint but a continuous process of acknowledging and working through the difficulties inherent in recovery. It is through this ongoing practice of acceptance that individuals with PTSD can find a path to not only manage their symptoms but also to reclaim a sense of agency and purpose in their lives.

Evidence Supporting ACT and EMDR for PTSD Therapy

The efficacy of Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is well-supported by clinical research.

A growing body of empirical evidence reveals that patients undergoing ACT experience significant reductions in PTSD symptoms, demonstrating enhanced psychological flexibility and improved quality of life. Similarly, research on EMDR therapy indicates that this approach effectively facilitates the processing of traumatic memories, leading to a decrease in the intensity and distress associated with these memories.

Comparative studies suggest that both ACT and EMDR can lead to improvements that are on par with, or exceed, those achieved through traditional cognitive-behavioral therapies. Furthermore, the unique mechanisms of action inherent in each therapy—ACT’s focus on acceptance and mindfulness, alongside EMDR’s targeted memory processing—offer diverse pathways to healing, catering to the varied needs of individuals with PTSD.

Notably, research also points to the lasting impact of these therapies, with follow-up studies indicating sustained benefits over time. This empirical support underscores the role of ACT and EMDR as valuable components of a comprehensive PTSD treatment plan, highlighting their potential to transform lives by addressing the multifaceted challenges faced by individuals with PTSD.

Practical Tips for Starting PTSD Therapy

Embarking on the journey of PTSD therapy requires careful consideration and preparation to ensure the most beneficial experience. Key to this process is identifying therapists who not only specialize in trauma but are also proficient in Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Such professionals will have a deeper understanding of the complexities associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and the nuanced approaches needed for effective treatment. Establishing clear, achievable goals at the outset can provide direction and motivation throughout the therapy process.

Engaging in regular self-care practices is crucial, as it supports emotional and physical well-being, enhancing your capacity to engage with the therapeutic work. Keeping an open mind and committing to the process, even when it becomes challenging, is essential for progress and healing. It’s also beneficial to maintain open lines of communication with your therapist, allowing for adjustments in the therapeutic approach as needed. These proactive steps can significantly contribute to a more positive and empowering therapy experience, facilitating the path toward recovery and well-being.

Empower Counseling for Acceptance Commitment Therapy and EMDR for PTSD Therapy

PTSD Awareness Month is a crucial time to bring attention to the struggles and triumphs of those living with PTSD. As a therapist specializing in ACT and EMDR, I have seen the profound impact these therapies can have. My hope for this month is that we all strive to educate ourselves and others, offer compassion, support, understanding, and advocate for those affected by PTSD so that they feel empowered to seek the help they need and start living the life they desire and deserve.

If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD, please reach out for professional help. Empower Counseling is here to support you in navigating the path to healing. Savannah Becotte, with Empower Counseling, specializes in helping individuals with PTSD in Birmingham, Alabama.

It’s easy to get therapy for PTSD with Savannah:

1. Click here

2. Set up your complimentary consultation

3. Begin healing

Therapy for PTSD is not the only service we offer at Empower Counseling in Mountain Brook, Alabama.

We offer anxiety therapy and counseling for perfectionism to teenscollege studentsyoung adults and professionals. Through online and in person counseling we help Samford studentsUniversity of Alabama studentsAuburn University students and others move away from anxiety and perfectionism so they can enjoy their best college experience. Empower CounselingLuciaMartiSavannah, and Kathryn, also offers counseling for Depressioneating disorder treatmentdifficult life transitions, bipolar disorder, self-esteem issues, women’s issues, trauma and PTSD, Your team at Empower Counseling is ready to help you. Using her analytical skills from her time as a lawyer, Kathryn is an executive coach and life coach. If you are overwhelmed, inefficient, or ineffective, Kathryn can help you streamline, organize, and be your most productive self.

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