EYE MOVEMENT DESENSITIZATION & REPROCESSING (EMDR)
HEALING FROM TRAUMA AND LIFE DISTURBING EVENTS
WHY AND HOW DO CHALLENGING PAST EXPERIENCES STILL AFFECT US IN THE PRESENT?
When we experience something that is unsettling or disturbing to us, it can be challenging to fully move on after the event. The effect of these experiences can become “stuck” in our brain and body because of how experiences get stored in our conscious (explicit) and subconscious (implicit) memory. When an experience gets “stuck,” it often shows up in the present moment through distressing or unpleasant thoughts, images, beliefs, emotions, and body sensations that are similar to what we felt when the unpleasant or distressing event happened. These symptoms may represent the fight, flight, or freeze responses, which are the natural responses our body has to a perceived threat. This happens because present moment experiences can “trigger” our mind, emotions, and bodies to act as if the unsettling event is happening in the present moment, even if our current environment is actually safe.
This is why therapists often encourage clients to take time in therapy to explore past experiences – it provides important puzzle pieces that help us change how we think, feel, and behave in the present and future. EMDR can help get the past and present disturbing events unstuck by replacing the disturbing effects with positive thoughts, images, beliefs, emotions, and body sensations.
WHAT IS EMDR?
EMDR Therapy (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a form of psychotherapy that helps people find relief from the distressing symptoms caused by major traumatic events as well as more common life disturbing events. The goal of EMDR is to help people experience a positive change in how they think and feel about past and present distressing experiences. You do not have to have experiences a major traumatic event to benefit from EMDR. Some of the more common issues that can be addressed using EMDR therapy are anxiety or fear, depression, relationship distress, divorce, life transitions, grief, negative childhood experiences, and other challenging experiences.
WHAT DO WE DO IN EMDR THERAPY?
The first stages of EMDR Therapy involve determining what present and past events are causing distress. This allows us to determine what experiences we will “target” or focus on during EMDR sessions. The “targets” are found by identifying the earliest memories you have of feeling the way you do in the present situation.
In the preparatory stages we also spend time practicing “containment” and “resource development.” Containment is a tool to help you manage distressing thoughts, feelings, or sensations that may come up in daily life and that may come up during the therapy process. Resource Development is focused on helping you to become better able to “feel the good feelings.” Resource Development involves learning skills to help you feel better able to manage stress, feel more strength to cope with challenges, and better able to get back to experiencing positive emotions after something distressing has occurred. These are skills that we will use in session and between sessions.
The history taking and preparation stages help us decide whether the EMDR “Trauma Protocol” is likely to be an effective method of therapy for you, or whether other methods may be better able to help you get what you want out of therapy. The great news is that even if we never do the official “trauma protocol,” the history taking, containment, and resource development processes can greatly help you feel better in your daily life.
WHAT IS THE “EYE MOVEMENT” PART OF EMDR?
A major component of EMDR Therapy is the use of Dual Attention Stimulus (“DAS” or “bilateral stimulation”), which are typically back-and-forth eye movements, tapping, or sounds. The DAS helps the different parts of the brain talk to each other. We get to practice DAS during resource development so you can decide which kind of DAS works best for you before we use it with the challenging experiences.
The DAS are used in “sets” of 8-45 seconds to help desensitize and reprocess, which is the focus of the EMDR Trauma Protocol.
WHAT IS THE "DESENSITIZATION" PART OF EMDR?
In EMDR our goal is to help you to become desensitized the effects of past disturbing life experiences. These effects are the negative symptoms you experience in relation to the disturbing experience, memory, thoughts, or feelings. Desensitization helps the brain to change the intensity of mental, emotion, and physical reactions to the disturbing memory. It does not change your memories, it reduces the distress caused by the memories.
WHAT IS THE "REPROCESSING" PART OF EMDR?
In reprocessing you are able to select a new, positive belief you would like to have about the experience, memory, etc. Again, we are not changing the memory itself - we are helping you to develop a more useful, adaptive, and strength-based relationship to the life disturbing event.