Oraine Ramoo

ALLEVIATING DISTRESS: Oraine Ramoo, women’s counselling psychologist and EMDRIA certified EMDR therapist.

IF you are one of many who live with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then you know that painful memories of a difficult childhood or traumatic event can have an adverse and lasting impact on one’s life. Although it is impossible to go back in time and change events, many have been able to heal with the support of therapeutic intervention.

One form of therapy that has been credited with alleviating the distress associated with traumatic memories is Eye Movement, Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).

EMDR may sound like something that was plucked from a science fiction novel but it is evidence-based treatment for PTSD and has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation, the American Psychiatric Association, the US Department of Defence and many other international organisations. EMDR is a non-traditional interactive psychotherapy technique which was developed in the 1980s by American psychologist Francine Shapiro. She devised the therapy to help people resolve the symptoms of traumatic life experiences.

While researching this unique psychotherapy, the Express sought the expert advice of women’s counselling psychologist and EMDRIA certified EMDR therapist Oraine Ramoo.

EMDR therapy helps to process frozen memories but it does not require patients to relive the entire sequence of the traumatic event. It is supported by bilateral stimulation which refers to the stimulation of the right and left hemispheres of the brain, said Ramoo. Even though EMDR initially involved a therapist directing a patient’s eye movements while they mentally focused on various aspects of the traumatic experience in very brief exposures, the practice of EMDR has evolved to the point where other bilateral stimulation techniques are used.

While some EMDR therapists use a light bar, light or wand to track a patient’s eye movements, others, including Ramoo, use a self-tapping technique like the butterfly hug in which a patient crosses their arms over their chest and taps. Some use an electronic tapping device which the patient holds in their hands and other therapists use auditory devices like headphones which generate music or give off a beep. Bilateral stimulation is said to facilitate the brain’s natural mechanisms for healing; it keeps the patient anchored and assists them in processing painful memories.

“The method the therapist chooses will depend on the patient. The most important thing is that the patient is completely comfortable,” says Ramoo.

As an EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, Ramoo works specifically with women who have experienced rape trauma and sexual abuse, however she makes it clear that EMDR is not only used to alleviate symptoms of trauma.

Treat depression

“It can be used to treat depression, anxiety, grief and symptoms of PMS,” says Ramoo.

Images are also used in this form of therapy but they are not pulled at random; they must be appropriately selected otherwise the therapist runs the risk of defeating the purpose of the therapy.

It is possible that EMDR was first introduced in T&T in the early to mid-2000’s. In the wake of Hurricane Ivan which devastated Grenada in 2004, a few psychologists from Trinidad were given an introductory crash course in EMDR to help victims of the hurricane process the trauma they experienced. The practice stayed mostly under wraps for a few years but has seen a resurgence. Today there are just a few fully trained EMDR therapists in T&T. Ramoo is one of two certified EMDR therapists.

Ramoo does not recommend doing EMDR with someone who is not adequately trained.

“This form of therapy can be dangerous if not applied accurately,” she says. “There are some sites that offer quick two-day training courses or do-it-yourself virtual EMDR courses that are cheaper than real therapy but this can result in negative reactions.”

While there are very good therapists offering services online, Ramoo urges persons to do independent searches to make sure that a particular therapist is the right fit for them.

“There are bona fide psychologists who see their clients online. There are also therapist matching services and programmes that are advertised online but just because a person is licensed doesn’t mean that their quality of service is good. Some are looking to make a quick buck and may not even be acquainted with the cultural differences that exist among their clients,” she warns.

Many years in therapy

In real-life situations a person has to be prepped a year or more in advance before they actually embark on EMDR therapy. In other words they must be physically, emotionally and mentally stable, not suicidal or addicted to illegal substances. EMDR is just one of thousands of modalities in psychology; while some have cast doubt over its efficacy, Ramoo has seen encouraging results in her clients. Some of her clients see a reduction in their PTSD symptoms after five or six sessions. Others who have suffered sexual trauma in their childhood and have gone on to be abused by a partner in their adult life are often in therapy for many years because their trauma runs deep.

In the years since Ramoo has been practising this unique form of psychotherapy, it has opened her eyes to the marvellous ways the brain functions.

“Our brains are magnificent, they protect us in fascinating ways by blocking out traumatic memories but it can only do so much for so long. And that’s why people who have blocked out sexual trauma that happened in the past are triggered in their later years by a pregnancy, birth or something they saw on the news or on television. That is when the brain starts pulling things from the unconscious to consciousness. So while our brain wants to protect us, it also wants us to heal,” explains Ramoo.

“When terrible things occur, what happens next is very crucial —some fight the memories and push them down only to have them resurface later, others seek help and go on to live happy, successful lives.”

If you are interested in learning more about EMDR, visit www.camhanach.org.


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