You’re here because you are curious about EMDR therapy and you want to know what it’s all about. As a therapist, I’ve learned many types of therapy that have positively changed the way I approach my practice, EMDR incorporates all that and so much more. For many years, I heard from respected clinicians about the incredible changes they have seen in their clients engaged in EMDR therapy. The therapy has gained recent momentum in the mental health world, and for good reason. EMDR is empirically validated as effective for helping people deal with trauma. It has also been shown effective with many other disruptive symptoms such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and addiction recovery. Think of your painful memories, thoughts, images, like a tangled ball of yarn, often complicated to talk through especially when the strings are intertwined. EMDR therapy can help to untangle the yarn and allow you to process one string at a time, in a safe contained way. EMDR therapy can accelerate the therapeutic process by resolving painful past traumas allowing you to live more fully in the present. And who doesn’t want to live in the present?
But what is EMDR therapy?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Don’t worry, it is way less complicated than it sounds. It is a non-drug, non-hypnosis, psychotherapy that combines many positive elements of numerous therapies along with left/right brain stimulation (known as bilateral stimulation), developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the 1980’s. EMDR therapy involves a trained therapist waving their fingers from left to right (some therapists use a light bar to achieve this part of the therapy), in a windshield wiper motion, which will trigger the brain to bring up the painful memories in an effort to process them and speed up the healing process. All of this is done in a safe environment with you and your therapist present. You are not alone in the processing of your memories. The therapist will also work to reprocess negative beliefs, images, and feelings and replace them with more positive ones. The outcome is the feeling of resolution and a more peaceful state overall. EMDR therapy has successfully treated millions of people of all ages, has gained notability with veterans of war as a primary treatment modality for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, but also many types of other traumatic stress and negative symptoms that come along with different experiences.
You’re probably wondering how simple “finger wipers” do all that? Interestingly enough the “finger waving” is key to the therapy. It engages something called bilateral stimulation (right to left eye movement), which repeatedly activates the opposite sides of the brain. This releases emotional experiences that are “trapped” in the nervous system. When this happens it assists the neurophysiological system, the basis of the mind-body connection, to free itself of blockages and begin to heal. In a basic sense, when a person experiences an adverse event, or trauma, the brain cannot process the event as it does normally. The brain instead takes this event and stores it, sort of like “I’ll get to this later”. Unfortunately, the “I’ll get to this later” never quite happens and essentially these adverse feelings, memories, and thoughts become “stuck” in an isolated memory network. They can easily become re-triggered by sound, smell, feelings, and environments that were activated during the traumatic event. EMDR therapy is able to guide the person in a safe, contained environment to “unstick” the memories, reprocess them, and replace them with more positive images. Once this happens,the person can begin to move forward with healing.
Who is the best candidate for EMDR?
EMDR therapy is for children, adolescents, and adults. If you or a loved one has ever experienced panic attacks, complicated grief, dissociative disorders, pain disorders, anxiety, performance anxiety, depression, addictions, phobias, sexual and/or physical abuse, body dysmorphic disorder, or personality disorders, then EMDR therapy may be a helpful option for you.
**It is important to note that a consultation with a EMDR trained therapist is the best way to determine if EMDR is right for you.
EMDR therapy has been designated by the American Psychiatric Association, U.S. Department of Defense, and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, as a highly effective and empirically supported treatment modality for the treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What happens in EMDR Therapy sessions?
EMDR therapy has a standardized set of protocols that a therapist will follow. There are 8 phases to the treatment, that are moved through at a varying pace depending on your readiness for the next stage. An EMDR therapist is trained to know appropriate pacing but you can determine whether to continue or stop at anytime. The therapist is there as a guide to help you get the most out of the experience, and at times may gently aide in pushing you through painful moments.
Why bring up painful memories? Isn’t it best to forget them and move on?
By avoiding the painful memory you might continue to experience the lasting effects of the event, through nightmares, stress, anxiety, and panic attacks. By holding onto these memories you stop yourself from moving on. The problem with avoidance, or ignoring these memories, is that it is a temporary relief. For a brief moment it allows you to feel better and put aside the pain, but it doesn’t remove it, and worse, it allows it to keep its power over you and your joy. Often, this painful memory rears its ugly head at times when we are not prepared and leaves us crippled by its effects. EMDR therapy is not just bringing up painful memories, its moving through them in a safe, contained way. It alleviates suffering, and replaces it with positivity.
What happens when I’m done with all 8 phases?
After the 8 phases you will likely continue to process the material for days, weeks, or perhaps even months. You might have new insights, vivid dreams, feel angry or numb with no real answer why. This is because your are finally processing the unpleasant memories you were holding onto for so long. Your therapist will guide you through this process and advise best practices for moving forward. Some people feel a slight buzzing all over their body, similar to the feeling of when they stand up too fast. Don’t worry, this will soon fade. Your right and left hemisphere are stimulated by the finger waving motion and it is only natural that you will feel something afterwards. Often times, after a person has processed one of their target issues they will notice that some of the other target issues, are no longer are troubling them. This is because our memory networks are linked in ways we aren’t consciously aware of. Its normal to cry, feel tired, need time to be alone, or feel a little “off” because your body is starting the healing process. Allow it to heal.