Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

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What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the emotional and physical distress that result from disturbing life experiences.

When a person has experienced something upsetting or disturbing the brain has difficulty processing the thoughts, images, feelings, and body sensations. This may be because the event happened too quickly for the brain to process it properly or because the situation was “too big” for the brain to process all the information at once.

As a result, one moment becomes “frozen in time”, and remembering a traumatic experience may feel just as real as the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings are still very vivid and intense. Such disturbing memories may stay “stuck” and have a lasting negative impact that interferes with the way a person sees the world, themselves, and other people.

These types of stuck memories are often what lead to PTSD symptoms, or symptoms of depression, anxiety, and grief. In other words, those that struggle with these types of debilitating symptoms have most likely experienced something extremely stressful and overwhelming and the event or situation was too big for the brain to fully digest.

Even though the person may rationally know that the “old event” is over with they may still be experiencing intense lingering emotions, body sensations, thoughts, and feelings associated with the original trauma.

Following a successful EMDR session, normal information processing resumes and a person will no longer relive their trauma with the same images, thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. The person will still remember what happened, but there is less of an emotional charge and therefore much less distress.

What Does EMDR Treat?

EMDR has a wide array of applications, and scientific research has established EMDR as an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress and disturbing memories. However, clinicians have also reported success using EMDR in treating the following conditions:

- Addictions
- Anxiety disorders  
- Complicated grief 
- Depressive symptoms
- Eating disorders 
- Dissociative symptoms 
- Chronic pain
- Performance anxiety 
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Stress reduction 
- Sexual and/or physical abuse

Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can often experience relief and healing much quicker than regular psychotherapy, as EMDR seems to allow the brain to process information more efficiently.

What Can I Expect from EMDR?

Here’s a helpful metaphor that might help you to understand the process of EMDR better.  Prior to EMDR, a person’s brain may feel scattered, distracted, fixated, and distressed about a certain memory or event.  It’s kind of like if you walked into a room with unorganized papers strewn about the floor with big stacks of papers in certain areas.  EMDR can help your brain to sort through the “papers” and then file them neatly in a “file cabinet” so you only have to refer to them when they are needed or you choose to.  Once they are placed in the correct area of the file cabinet (your brain), they are no longer physically or emotionally distressing, as they have been sorted through, processed, and stowed away in the brain with all the other memories of your life.

Prior to doing EMDR in the therapy setting, a comprehensive assessment needs to be completed to understand the nature of the problem and to decide whether EMDR is an appropriate treatment. This includes taking a client history, discussing current coping skills and the therapist gaining more understanding of how the client is currently functioning in their life.

If a client is in active addiction or suicidal, then EMDR would not be appropriate, as the process of EMDR does naturally stir up distressing material and that may feel more overwhelming before it feels relieving.

In all, a proficient EMDR therapist works with their clients to reach their treatment goals, so even if EMDR is not an appropriate treatment yet, or even at all, our therapists at Resilience Counseling & Wellness can work on resourcing the client in other ways so we can work towards the healing and relief the client is searching for.

Once the client has been deemed resourced enough for EMDR and ready to move forward with the process, a specific problem is identified by both therapist and client to work on. Then the therapist will ask some questions to the client to develop the treatment “target”. The target could be something that happened in the past, a present trigger or situation, or even a future trigger.

Often times it can be helpful to deal with some of the present triggers before delving into older material, as it helps the client decrease the stress in their everyday life. Additionally, it can allow clients to feel some comfort and confidence with the EMDR protocol, as they can typically feel relief relatively quickly when processing a current trigger. Also, current triggers are usually less distressing situations that may be annoying to the client, but not necessarily as disturbing as some of the traumatic things in their history.

After clearing some of the current stressors or triggers in a client’s life, then the therapist and client can begin to shift attention to some of the older disturbing events in one’s history.  Prior to this step, however, it is important that the client is practicing regular self-care, has a good set of coping skills, and has good emotional support. In essence, the more resilient the client is in their “current” life, the smoother the EMDR process will go. It is absolutely paramount that the client feels some stability in their everyday life before we delve into EMDR processing for the bigger traumas in their past.

For more information about the EMDR process, click HERE!

How Do I Get Started with EMDR?

Not every client that comes to us for therapy is appropriate for EMDR, but if they aren’t, we want to try and find a way to get them there. We have many other skills and modalities to get our clients ready for EMDR, like somatic skills and polyvagal-informed therapy, which makes a huge impact as it allows us to better support and balance the body’s nervous system.

For those clients interested in EMDR, we also strongly suggest utilizing some of our wellness options to help stabilize and regulate the nervous systemAlthough it’s not required, of course, properly supporting your nervous system will get you optimal results from your EMDR sessions while maintaining balance emotionally and physically. 

As part of the prep work for EMDR and also during the course of your EMDR treatment, we recommend a regimen of the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP), Vibroacoustic Therapy (VAT), or NeurOptimal Neurofeedback (NO).  Having a solid routine of one these wellness options or a combination of these will help clients enter the EMDR process more calm, more present, more resilient, and a greatly improved ability to process emotions, body sensations, and thoughts with ease.

Please reach out to us today if you are ready to get started with EMDR!  At Resilience Counseling & Wellness in Houston, TX, we are doing something SUPER unique with offering a variety of wellness tools AND nervous system balancing therapies that can help someone move through the EMDR process with ease and success!  We would love for you to try it!