Healing from trauma and emotional pain doesn’t have to take years; it can happen very quickly for many individuals when treated with EMDR. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It was developed in 1987 by Francine Shapiro and since then has been used as a highly effective therapy to treat millions of people with amazingly high success rates. Just like the body, the mind can also heal itself naturally. Much of this natural healing and coping process of the mind occurs during sleep, particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
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. Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes. EMDR utilizes these natural process in order to successfully treat a wide range of mental health challenges.
Most of the time your body routinely manages new information and experiences without you being aware of it. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and you are traumatized by an overwhelming event (e.g. a car accident) or by being repeatedly subjected to distress (e.g. childhood neglect), your natural coping mechanism can become overloaded.
This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain or being "unprocessed". Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of your brain in a "raw" and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode. This limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network that is associated with emotions and physical sensations, and which are disconnected from the brain’s cortex where we use language to store memories.
The limbic system’s traumatic memories can be continually triggered when you experience events similar to the difficult experiences you have been through. Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present. Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited.
EMDR "Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing" is a simple, efficient form of therapy utilizing Bilateral Stimulation (BLS)- usually in the form of eye movements, tapping, or auditory tones in order to accelerate the brain’s capacity to process and heal a troubling memory, thought, feeling, phobia, etc. BLS stimulates the same eye movements which occur during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) or dream sleep causing the two parts of the brain to work in conjunction in order to reintegrate a memory. EMDR helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory in a very natural way.
The term “processing” (or “reprocessing”) in the context of treatment and EMDR doesn’t refer to talking about the traumatic event or its impact. Rather, it refers to what is taking place in your brain during EMDR. Your brain “reprocesses”, reintegrates, rewires, and reorganizes traumatic memories as you focus on various aspects of the trauma, the negative belief, apply Bilateral Stimulation (eye movement, tapping, etc.), and then shift to a more positive thought or belief about yourself.
Here's an analogy. Imagine a closet stuffed with clothes, shoes, and other miscellaneous items just thrown in randomly, making the closet a constant headache because nothing was in its proper place. Once everything is taken out and put back in – hung up or neatly folded – in an organized manner, the closet is no longer a problem. Everything is now properly stored.
This is, essentially, what EMDR allows you to do with the traumatic memories that had previously been improperly stored and, as a result, were causing so many problems in your life. Once they’ve been “reprocessed”, they’re properly stored and no longer cause distress.
After a thorough history and assessment, 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 (or wand) moving backwards and forwards across your visual field. This is called Bilateral Stimulation (BLS). Sometimes, a bar of moving lights, handheld buzzers, tapping on parts of the body, or headphones are used instead.
The eye movements (or other BLS) 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. The process is rapid, and any disturbing experiences, if they occur at all, last for a comparatively short period of time. Nevertheless, you need to be aware of, and willing to experience, the strong feelings and disturbing thoughts, which sometimes occur during sessions.
With repeated sets of eye movements, (or other BLS) 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 as it becomes reintegrated into the memory network. 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.
During EMDR treatment, you will remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake. This is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time. Throughout the session, the therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing and intervene as little as possible. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously, and new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally from within. As a result, most people experience EMDR as being a natural and very empowering therapy.
EMDR can be brief focused treatment or part of a longer psychotherapy program. Clients generally experience relief in as little as 1 session and can experience dramatic changes in 6 sessions. EMDR sessions are typically anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes. EMDR can accelerate therapy by resolving the impact of your past traumas and allowing you to live more fully in the present.
"This is what therapy is supposed to feel like"
~Statement made by a new EMDR Client who has been in talk therapy for many years.~
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Victoria King, LMFT#99231