What is EMDR?

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WHAT IS EMDR?

Short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, EMDR is a simple but efficient therapy using bilateral stimulation (BLS) ─ tapping, auditory tones or eye movements ─ to accelerate the brain’s capacity to process and heal a troubling memory. This therapy can help with both the healing of emotional pain as well as physical discomfort related to trauma, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem issues and other life events. It is used to effectively treat both upsetting past events and present life conditions.

 

HOW DOES EMDR AFFECT THE BRAIN?

Our brains have a natural way to recover from traumatic memories and events. This process involves communication between the amygdala (the alarm signal for stressful events), the hippocampus (which assists with learning, including memories about safety and danger), and the prefrontal cortex (which analyzes and controls behavior and emotion). While many times traumatic experiences can be managed and resolved spontaneously, they may not be processed without help. Stress responses are part of our natural fight, flight, or freeze instincts. When distress from a disturbing event remains, the upsetting images, thoughts, and emotions may create an overwhelming feeling of being back in that moment, or of being “frozen in time.” EMDR therapy helps the brain process these memories, and allows normal healing to resume. The experience is still remembered, but the fight, flight, or freeze response from the original event is resolved. 

 

WHAT IS AN EMDR SESSION LIKE?

EMDR utilizes the natural healing ability of your body. After a thorough assessment and development of a treatment plan, you will be asked specific questions about a particular disturbing memory. Eye movements, similar to those during REM sleep, will be recreated simply by asking you to watch the therapist's finger moving backwards and forwards across your visual field. Sometimes, a bar of moving lights or headphones is used instead. The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you have had during each of these sets of eye movements. Experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images and feelings. With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past. Other associated memories may also heal at the same time. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life.

 

HOW IS EMDR DIFFERENT FROM OTHER THERAPEUTIC MODALITIES?

EMDR therapy does not require talking in detail about the distressing issue or completing homework between sessions. EMDR therapy, rather than focusing on changing the emotions, thoughts, or behaviors resulting from the distressing issue, allows the brain to resume its natural healing process. EMDR therapy is designed to resolve unprocessed traumatic memories in the brain. For many clients, EMDR therapy can be completed in fewer sessions than other psychotherapies.

AM I A CANDIDATE FOR EMDR THERAPY?

Yes! Literally every human being on this planet has experienced varying degrees of trauma. Our current day symptoms (anxiety, stress, depression, low self worth, cognitive distortions, troubled thoughts, dysfunctional relationships, etc) are all a byproduct of past experiences and memories that have gotten stuck along the way. EMDR can access these experiences on a neurological level and help them to be adaptively reprocessed.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

https://www.emdria.org/about-emdr-therapy/experiencing-emdr-therapy/ https://www.evolutionsbh.com/articles/what-is-resourcing-in-emdr-therapy/ https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/eye-movement-reprocessing https://beyondtraumapodcast.com/episodes-2/

Adapted from information at www.emdrias.org, www.getselfhelp.co.uk, and www.thetraumacentre.com