EYE MOVEMENT DESENSITIZATION AND REPROCESSING (EMDR)
HOW DOES EMDR WORK?
"EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitiztion and Reprocessing. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it prevents it from fully healing and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. Similarly, the mind will naturally move toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound persists and can cause intense suffering. Past events become present and individuals may experience flashbacks, disturbing thoughts, and disrupted sleep and/or avoid thinking or talking about past events. Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR, therapists help clients activate their brain’s natural healing processes." (Source: www.emdr.com)
WHAT DOES EMDR TREAT?
EMDR is has been proven to successfully treat several problems, including (but not limited to) the following:
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Past and Recent Trauma
HOW LONG DOES EMDR TAKE?
Every person and their healing journey is different, therefore the amount of time it takes to resolve emotional distress will vary person to person. However, EMDR is proven to be a highly rapid and effective form of treatment compared to other forms of therapy (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) because it literally restructures how the brain operates on a physiological level. Some individuals only require 3-6 sessions, while others may require 6-15 sessions or more. Studies indicate that 84-90% of individuals diagnosed with PTSD from a single event trauma no longer have symptoms of PTSD after only three 90-minute EMDR sessions (Wilson, Becker and Tinker, 1995,1997). Additional research proves that after an average of six 50-minutes sessions that 100% of individuals with single event trauma and 74% of individuals who experienced multiple traumatic events no longer reported symptoms of PTSD (Marcus et al., 1997, 2004).
In my private practice, I offer traditional 55-minute sessions but also have had much success doing 90 minute and 3-hour EMDR intensive sessions, which can be highly effective at jump-starting your recovery and achieving immediate relief.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT WITH EMDR THERAPY?
The truth is, EMDR therapy is work and it is not a right fit for every person. But for those that EMDR is a good fit for, it is well WORTH IT. Most of my clients tell me that they notice a dramatic positive shift in how they think and feel about specific experiences and that once they start EMDR that they feel "lighter" and "more clear" about things that they have been holding onto for a while. I often hear from my clients say that they "wish they would have done EMDR years ago". Because your brain is doing a lot of work during EMDR, you may feel extra tired after an EMDR session. For this reason, I recommend that you take it extra easy after an EMDR session and do things to help physically "detox" from the emotional processing that is taking place such as yoga, drinking lemon water, taking a walk in nature or soaking in an Epsom salt bath.
You may already be aware of the past event(s) that you want to work on in EMDR therapy. For instance, it may be a car accident that you were in or perhaps it was an abusive relationship that you continue to experience nightmares or anxiety about. For others, the past event(s) that are feeding into current problems are not so obvious. EMDR can help you with both scenarios. I will help guide you through the EMDR preparation stage to safely identify which past experiences are connected to present problems. Before we work through the past issues, we will spend some time developing the resources and coping skills necessary to ensure that your EMDR treatment is optimal. This will include learning creative and effective techniques to bring calm and peace into your mind and body. We will develop a treatment plan that identifies which specific memories that are connected to current problems and then address any related future concerns you may have. At the start of each session, I will check in with you and will support you to decide which memory or issue you would like to work on first. I will guide, encourage and support you throughout each session. At the end of our session time, I will invite you to join in deep breathing practice, restorative yoga poses, listening to calming music or brief guided meditation to close.
WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENS IN AN EMDR SESSION?
Eye Movement: In a nutshell, the physical aspects of EMDR involved the client simply following the therapist’s fingers back and forth through their field of vision. This eye movement creates what is called “bilateral stimulation” in the brain. Bilateral stimulation is similar to the eye movements in REM sleep and allows the client to access disturbing memories in a safe way in order to start reducing the impact that those memories have on present functioning. While the eye movement may seem hypnotic, EMDR is not like hypnosis because the client is always in control and fully aware of what is taking place. Other forms of bilateral stimulation may be used, including listening to alternating sounds or by holding buzzers that alternate vibrations. This process then leads to desensitization and reprocessing of those thoughts and images (explained below).
Desensitization: This is a form of brief, safe and controlled exposure therapy. We will “target” past events that are causing present distress by identifying a mental “picture” of the memory, the emotions and body sensations that are associated with it and a negative belief that you are having about yourself (ie: “It was my fault.”). Then we will do several sets of eye movements. This part of EMDR often creates temporary discomfort and a moderate level of distress for some clients but then that discomfort resolves more quickly especially when compared to other forms of trauma treatment. I work very closely with my clients to assess and ensure that their level of distress does not become intolerable and that they feel safe and supported.
Reprocessing: Ironically, the “reprocessing” aspect of EMDR does not mean that you have to talk in great detail about experiences that you have had. Although if you wish to discuss these experiences in detail I am fully supportive of that and it does not hinder the EMDR process. This part of treatment allows for new, more positive associations to be made with past disturbing memories. You will be literally re-organizing how your brain stores memories, feelings and beliefs. For instance, someone may have believed “I am unlovable” and after EMDR can affirm “I am worthy and deserve love.” It is a powerful and life changing experience for many people who experience EMDR.
WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT EMDR?
You can learn a lot more about EMDR by visiting the following links:
A book that I sometimes recommend my clients read is "Getting Past Your Past" written by the creator of EMDR, Dr. Francine Sharpiro (2013). This gives a great overview of EMDR without the clinical jargon.
CAN I DO EMDR ON MYSELF?
No. EMDR practitioners attend intensive, specialized post-Masters training and supervision in order to provide this type of therapy. There are some websites that promote doing "self-EMDR" which not only is unethical, but is dangerous since EMDR requires that a highly skilled therapist work closely with you in order to ensure that you are not re-traumatized or experience adverse effects.