EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

  • Do you find yourself caught in repeating patterns of unhealthy behaviors or relationships?
  • Does anxiety, fear or depression color your life?
  • Do you have recurring negative thoughts about yourself that keep you from making good choices or having good relationships?
  • Have you suffered a major trauma, or a series of smaller traumas, that continue to haunt you today?

If so, EMDR could help. You are the sum of all of your past experiences, both positive and negative. The positive experiences help you grow and develop healthy attitudes and behaviors. The negative ones can hold you back in ways you’re not even aware of.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is an efficient approach to therapy that helps reduce the impact and effect of past experiences on your present-day life.

“Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing” is the name Francine Shapiro, PhD gave the therapy she developed in the 1980s. In the decades since, many studies have been done (click here to link through to the annotated list) to test the effectiveness of this therapy that works to activate your inborn ability to cope with the present-day impact of your past pain. EMDR is recognized by the Department of Defense, the World Health Organization, the American Psychiatric Association and others as an effective treatment for those suffering the aftereffects of trauma.

The human brain is our information-processing system. Like our circulatory system or our digestive system, when our information-processing system is healthy and in good working order, we live and act in a healthy manner. Our memory networks “digest” new information and adapt to new situations based upon our prior experiences and knowledge. Our current experiences and past memories are stored in a way that is accessible, adaptive and useful. We learn readily, we engage in healthy relationships, and can live, love and remember without fear or pain or panic.

Conversely, if our information-processing system has been affected by traumatic or painful events, our ability to live healthy emotional lives can be compromised. Painful events, both big and small, can be stored dysfunctionally, apart from the areas of our brain that process the information in a healthy way. Because these memories are not connected with the more adaptive information held in our memory networks, these unprocessed memories create maladaptive responses. This is how an abused child becomes an adult who can never shake the feeling that she is in imminent danger, or cannot trust any man, or is altogether unlovable. This is how a rape survivor who continues to blame herself for her attack becomes convinced that she doesn’t deserve to be treated lovingly, finding herself in relationships with others who hurt her.

How is EMDR done?

Together with your therapist, you will decide what painful experiences of your past create the most disturbance for you. When you have chosen your starting place, you will focus on:

  • a visual image that represents this incident,
  • the negative belief about yourself that came from that,
  • how you would prefer to think about yourself now,
  • the emotions associated with the event, and
  • the physical sensations you experience when remembering that event.

The reprocessing of this event will be done using eye movements, tapping or other types of stimulation which will get the right and left halves of your brain processing this memory in a new, more adaptive way. Your therapist will guide you through this brain stimulation, stopping at regular intervals to  breathe, reflect on any changes you experience and report any new thoughts or feelings you have become aware of.

This process is repeated as your memories, thoughts and feelings change until your level of distress is lower than it was at the beginning of the session. You will find that your memory of this incident, as it is more adaptively processed by your brain in these sessions, becomes less powerful and less painful. Your thoughts about yourself linked with this memory will become less negative and more positive. You will be able to remember this painful incident without its associated emotions; it will simply become something that happened to you in the past, but that you are no longer much affected by.

But I’ve never experienced trauma…

We tend to think of trauma as something big: combat violence, sexual assault, a horrific traffic accident. And thankfully, many of us have never experienced trauma of that scale. But not all trauma is “big-T” Trauma.

A better description of trauma is an experience that overwhelms one’s ability to cope, leaving that person powerless. Thus, the child whose father routinely degrades him and calls him stupid is unable to cope and becomes powerless before his father and other authority figures. This is trauma. Or the family that lives in deep poverty and family chaos, leaving the children to tend and fend for themselves. This is trauma.

Few of us are so fortunate as to have lived a life free of these types of painful life events. These “little-t” traumas, when left unprocessed, can create maladaptive behavior and feelings just as surely as the more recognizable “big-T” Traumas can.

Contact me today to discuss whether EMDR is right for you.

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