EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
What is EMDR?
The mind can often heal itself naturally, in the same way as the body does. Much of this natural coping mechanism occurs during sleep, particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Dr. Francine Shapiro developed Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in 1987, utilizing this natural process to treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) successfully. Since then, EMDR has also been used to effectively treat a wide range of mental health problems: depression, anxiety, grief, and phobias.
Sometimes, trauma impacts us in ways we don’t fully realize. When I talk about trauma, I mean all trauma. Some trauma, like abuse, is obvious. But not all trauma is so apparent. What is traumatic for one person might not seem traumatic to another. While an accident or abuse is obviously traumatic, sometimes something that was said to us can be traumatic. If it feels traumatic and is stored as a traumatic memory, it can impact everything from our mood to our use of substances as a way to cope.
What happens when you are traumatized?
Most of the time, your body and brain 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 abuse/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 helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory in a very natural way.
What is an EMDR session like?
EMDR utilizes the natural healing ability of your body. After a thorough assessment, you will be asked specific questions about a particular disturbing memory. Like those during REM sleep, eye movements will be recreated simply by asking you to watch moving lights or holding hand pulsators. The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop. You will then be asked to report back on your experiences 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.
Can EMDR help me?
It’s highly likely. EMDR can be effectively utilized for:
- Resourcing: We will work to strengthen internal resources while soothing parts of you that feel limited. EMDR utilizes images, emotions, body sensations, and positive cognitions to increase feelings of calm, safety, and confidence.
- Resolving relationship difficulties: Attachment-focused EMDR works to repair unmet development needs (often called attachment wounding) when we have experienced an absence of care/neglect or abuse.
- Trauma recovery: While I often utilize EMDR for clients with big “T” trauma (e.g. a major car accident, assault), I also support clients with small “t” traumas (e.g. chronic or ongoing stressful conditions, such as interpersonal conflict, difficult parents, financial stress). One of the most overlooked aspects of small ‘t’ traumas is their accumulated effect. Multiple, compounded small ‘t’ traumas may lead to distress in the nervous system and trouble with emotional functioning.
What is a Certified EMDR Therapist?
I am a certified EMDR therapist, which means that in addition to completing training in using EMDR, I have also completed the certification process, which requires advanced training and experience. I have vast experience incorporating ego state work, polyvagal theory, and attachment into my EMDR practice, which comprehensively conceptualizes overall functioning and helps you achieve lasting relief. I am an active member of EMDRIA, the professional association for EMDR practitioners, to facilitate the highest standards of clinical use.