What is EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapeutic process that helps people heal from the symptoms and emotional distress caused by disturbing life experiences. This treatment approach has proven to be beneficial for those suffering the emotional and physical reactions of abuse, assault, accidents and combat. It is also a useful tool to help treat individuals with other forms of trauma such as betrayals, conflicts and bullying.
Many people believe that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the object is removed or the repetitive injuries cease, healing resumes. EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. By employing EMDR’s detailed protocols and procedures, clients can activate their natural healing processes.
In addition to treating “Big T” trauma, EMDR can be very effective in treating the “everyday” memories that are the reason people have low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, and all the myriad problems that bring them to therapy.
How does EMDR work?
In many instances when a person is very upset due to a traumatic event or situation, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes “frozen in time,” and remembering a trauma may feel as disturbing as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world, the way they relate to others, and the thoughts and feelings they have about themselves.
EMDR seems to have a direct impact on the way that the brain processes information. Following a successful course of EMDR, a person no longer finds his/herself as disturbed by the images, sounds, sensations and feelings when the traumatic event is brought to mind. A person will still remember what happened, but it will be less upsetting. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a psychotherapeutic intervention that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.
EMDR is a non-invasive technique employing the bilateral stimulation of the brain. Bilateral stimulation is a method of alternately engaging both sides of your brain through a series of visual or tactile movements or through sound.
EMDR therapy is a multi-phase treatment incorporating assessment, stress reduction techniques, processing using bilateral stimulation, and evaluating progress. In treatment I first work my clients to determine which traumatic memory to target first. I then ask the client to hold different aspects of the event or thought in mind and to use his eyes to track hand movements or beams of light as it moves back and forth across his field of vision. As this happens, internal associations arise and the client begins to process the memory and disturbing feelings. In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional level. For instance, an abuse victim shifts from feeling horror and self-disgust to holding the firm belief that, “I survived the abuse and I am strong.” Unlike talk therapy, the insights clients gain in EMDR result not so much from the therapist’s interpretation, but from the client’s own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes. The end result is that clients conclude EMDR therapy feeling empowered by the very experiences that once debased them. Their wounds have not just closed, they have transformed.