WHAT IS EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an evidenced based psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference.
EMDR is based on the Adaptive Information Processing theory developed by Francine Shapiro states that trauma and traumatic experiences can produce memories that are very distressing for individuals. At that time of the event, the memory does not fully get processed or integrated in our nervous system and brain. It can cause difficulty for individuals in the future. As individuals grow up and go about life, they can have negative beliefs, thoughts and physical sensations that are associated with the past trauma that get triggered. Until those memories are adequately fully processed, a person cannot function at their best. EMDR is all about resolving those problematic memories by processing them fully thus bringing the individual into the present with more associated positive beliefs of the self. More presence and distance from past traumatic experiences.
The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the U.K. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs/Dept. of Defense, The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and the World Health Organization among many other national and international organizations recognize EMDR therapy as an effective treatment.
HOW DOES EMDR WORK?
Our brains have a natural way to recover from traumatic memories and events. This process involves communication between the amygdala (the alarm signal for stressful events), the hippocampus (which assists with learning, including memories about safety and danger), and the prefrontal cortex (which analyzes and controls behavior and emotion). While many times traumatic experiences can be managed and resolved spontaneously, they may not be processed without help.
Stress responses are part of our natural fight, flight, or freeze instincts. When distress from a disturbing event remains, the upsetting images, thoughts, and emotions may create an overwhelming feeling of being back in that moment, or of being “frozen in time.” EMDR therapy helps the brain process these memories, and allows normal healing to resume. The experience is still remembered, but the fight, flight, or freeze response from the original event is resolved.
In a nutshell, instead of talking about unpleasant thoughts, feelings, EMDR works to let the brain heal itself. It integrates the mind and body through the process of eye movements. In trauma informed care, we now understand that talk therapy, a top-down approach, does not sufficiently integrate experiences in our life that leave us feeling sad, hopeless and lost. When we are just talking about the trauma it can re-traumatize individuals. It might feel good at the moment but individuals may still feel anxious or have unpleasant body or somatic sensations. EMDR therapy helps to support the brain and body working together which decreases disturbances in the body and mind.
EMDR is an eight-phase protocol. So, you won’t begin to process these disturbances right away. We will work together to build “resourcing skills'' or coping skills to use when emotions feel overwhelming or the thoughts seem too much. Then we will create a targeted plan that will narrow in on specific moments in time and associated negative beliefs that get linked to many challenges that you are experiencing.
How would EMDR be useful to me?
EMDR is a comprehensive therapy and can be utilized across a wide spectrum of issues; Everything from simple, mild, recently-acquired anxieties to long-standing and deeply traumatic childhood experiences can be potentially resolved within relatively short periods of time, particularly when compared to other traditional therapy models.
Is EMDR the same as Hypnotherapy / CBT?
No they are not the same. While cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and hypnotherapy can be effective in the treatment of trauma, the approaches, techniques, and protocols behind EMDR therapy are very different. During an EMDR session, you are fully awake and aware of your surroundings, and participate actively in your treatment, with guidance provided from the therapist at all times. EMDR does not involve long spans of time spent gradually re-framing beliefs and thought processes in order to change an individual's behavior. EMDR also tends to yield more rapid results, when compared to other therapies.
Other therapeutic approaches seek to externally change a person's reaction a traumatic event, while EMDR leverages the brain's own existing internal, biological mechanisms for handling traumatic memories. CBT and hypnotherapy can be thought of as external and synthetic in their approaches, where as EMDR can be thought of as internal, and natural, in its approach.
What is Trauma?
Who can benefit from EMDR?
What is an actual EMDR session like?
Learn more from EMDRIA (EMDR International Association) here.
What are the benefits of EMDR?
Watch this video.
What do other patients say about their experience with EMDR?
Watch EMDR patients share their stories here.
What is the experience like as an EMDR therapist?
Watch the video here.