Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

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What is EMDR Therapy?

When a person has experienced something upsetting or disturbing the brain has difficulty processing the thoughts, images, feelings, and body sensations.  It’s as if the event is “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.  Thus, even though they may know rationally 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.

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

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 kinds of problems 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:

  • anxiety disorders
  • personality disorders
  • complicated grief
  • depressive symptoms
  • eating disorders
  • dissociative symptoms
  • chronic pain
  • performance anxiety
  • stress reduction
  • addictions
  • sexual and/or physical abuse

What can I expect from EMDR therapy?

Prior to doing EMDR, 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, we can work on stabilizing 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 stable 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.

How do I get started with EMDR therapy?

Not every client that comes to us for therapy is appropriate for EMDR, but if they aren’t, we want to find a way to get them there.  Thus, we will use our other skills and modalities to get our clients ready for it.  The Somatic Experiencing makes a huge impact there, as it allows us to clear stuck negative energy from the body and better regulate the nervous system.  As a result, clients enter the EMDR process more calm, more present, more resilient, and a greatly improved ability to process emotions and thoughts.

The foundational prep work of the Somatic Experiencing (SE) prior to the EMDR has truly been a game changer with the results we have seen with our clients.  And it becomes even more powerful when the SE is taken one step further by interweaving it throughout the entire EMDR process.  A truly magical and powerful combination!  Please reach out to us if you are ready to get started with EMDR.