Summary: The following article pertains to using EMDR to treat trauma related to sports accidents, specifically climbing.

What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Discovered by Francine Shapiro in 1989, this is a treat for trauma or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This type of treatment can be used for traumas related to sports accidents or competitive upsetting experiences, anxiety, life changing events such as divorce, rape, sexual abuse, car accidents and more.

Process of EMDR in Treating Trauma

EMDR treat works by using bursts of 20-40 second rapid and saccadic eye movements. Those using this form of therapy on patients will have them visually track a light which moves from left to right. The idea behind this form of therapy is that it makes the brain process information in the same way as rapid eye movement. Shapiro believes this process helps those with trauma cope with the memories in a more positive or coping light.

EMDR Treatment for a Climbing Accident ( Sports Trauma)

Here’s an example of how EMDR might help treat an advanced climber who has experienced a climbing accident: A man was climbing with another climber when he fell. He had set up anchors along his climbing route but he had lost his footing. The highest set anchor came loose with the force of the fall. Unfortunately, there was too much rope out for the lower anchor to catch him.

The climber could experience a series of emotions including anxiety and panic. He might relive the upsetting experience if he tries to climb again, assuming a full physical recovery. He might ask himself, “What did I do wrong?” or Why did I miss my footing?” He would be asked to rate the SUDS, an acronym for Subjective Units of Distress Scale. The scale ranges from 0 (no disturbance) to 10 (highest disturbance). Heart rate would also be recorded. At the first EMDR session, the climber might rate the SUDS at a 7, with heart rate at 110. This indicates high anxiety and maybe a sense of pain physically in the stomach. After the third EMD session, the climber might rate the SUDS at 4, with heart rate at 70. This would indicate an improvement in possible perception of the traumatic experience when falling.

Another measurement used during this procedure is VOC, Validity of Cognition Scale. This is a measurement of self-perception or a person’s positive coping self-belief in connection with the traumatic experience. It’s rated on a 7 point scale where 1 is completely false and 7 is completely true. For instance, our climber might say “I did everything I could to stay safe while climbing”. His VOC at his first EMDR session might be a 5 and after session three it could be bumped up to a 6.

Some sports might have a team psychotherapist on hand for help during traumatic experiences. If an athlete chooses to deal with stress on their own, they might try EMDR to see if that is an effective treatment for them.