What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)?
Put very simply, EMDR uses bilateral stimulation (eye movements, tactile, or auditory tones) to process disturbing or distressing memories, especially trauma, using a specific protocol. It essentially helps to “re-program” the brain. The process creates a shift in perspective about the experience, world and/or self that is more realistic.
Most memories you can look back on with a neutral or no reaction. However, when something stressful or traumatic occurs, the brain stores that information along with the images, thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc. associated with that memory. So, anytime you get a reminder of that experience, you may react as if it’s actually happening all over again. Even have those same thoughts, feelings, sensations. The memory gets locked up in the brain in a fragmented way, and you are unable to access the part of the brain that allows you to problem solve. EMDR helps to unblock the memory network and allows it to link up with your problem-solving brain. That way, when you get a reminder (trigger), your brain can better process that information. Thus, you will no longer react to that previous stressful/traumatic memory the same way.
How can you benefit from EMDR?
One significant benefit that happens with EMDR is changing negative beliefs about yourself. These beliefs either developed over time or from specific incidents. For example, “I’m not good enough,” “I don’t matter,” “It’s my fault,” “I’m broken.” Additionally, your “triggers” are no longer triggering for you. After EMDR is complete, most people can reflect on those traumatic or stressful memories without feeling overwhelmed or disturbed as they have in the past. The memory doesn’t disappear, it’s still there. It just doesn’t feel as emotionally intense to think about. Many clients describe those memories afterward as, “Yeah, that’s bad that it happened, but when I think of it, it’s doesn’t bother me so much anymore.”
Is EMDR right for you?
Many can benefit from EMDR, but it’s not the right fit for everyone. In order for the process to be most effective, you need to be able and willing to deal with physical sensations and emotions that might come up in the EMDR process. Before starting EMDR, we will work on some tools and resources to prepare you for being able to better tolerate and manage those feelings.
Sometimes, but not always, you may re-experience aspects of the trauma or distressing experience that we are working on. Additionally, there is the chance that suppressed memories may arise. It’s important to know these aspects, so you can make an informed decision about starting EMDR. In addition, you must be in a stable enough place in your life that you can tolerate the possible intensity of the process. For example, if someone is in crisis or lacks stability in different areas of their life (housing, support system, finances, etc.), EMDR is may not the best idea for them right now. We always work toward stability first: mentally, emotionally and physically.
Another note about fit. If you are taking a benzodiazepine, this is one medication that is contraindicated for EMDR. The purpose of the medication is to help numb feelings so you don’t feel them so intensely. However, with EMDR we want to make sure we are accessing those feelings and that might not be fully possible if taking this type of medication. That being said, sometimes if they are not taken regularly, adjustments can be made for it to work in conjunction with EMDR. And always talk to your psychiatrist or doctor if you are considering going off any medication, especially one such as a benzodiazepine, due to the possible side effects.
How many sessions is EMDR?
Many people ask this question and my answer is always that it depends. I never put a number of sessions to it, because there are so many factors that influence the process. I don’t want to set up unrealistic expectations. First, it depends on if we are working on an ongoing experience (such as childhood neglect or abuse) or a one-time incident. Secondly, each person is unique in their current circumstances, how these experiences impact them, and how they process things. Lastly, we never know what might come up in the process. Sometimes that leads us to discover there is more to work on than originally expected. A majority of my clients have complex trauma, thus there are many layers to work through that we might not know of until we start.
If you have more questions, want to learn more, or are interested in this type of treatment, contact me today to set up a consultation appointment!
Below is video of a PSA regarding EMDR treatment:
For additional information, visit the Eye Movement and Desensitization International Association (EMDRIA) website: