7 Things to Know About: “That Thing Called EMDR” Therapy
EMDR therapy is one of my specialties and I use it with most of my clients. However, due to the complexity of it, it’s often difficult for me to explain how it all works! I mean the name in itself can be a mouthful. Once we can get past the explanation, we can start the actual “work” and move on the path towards healing.
EMDR therapy is one that truly involves the mind, body and soul. We work on beliefs and images held in the mind with a strong focus on what we are experiencing in the body so that the truth that is in our soul can have clarity and return to its true self.
So here we go on my best attempt at an explanation in my own words:
1. What does EMDR stand for?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. As soon as you have read those words, it’s okay to forget them because they are long and sound rather complicated. Leave the complicated up to the therapist because with EMDR therapy the process is rather simple for the client.
2. What is EMDR therapy used for?
EMDR was designed to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, I also use the therapy to treat general Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Phobias, unresolved Grief, and for a general sense of moving towards a healthy and positive future.
3. How does EMDR therapy work?
There is a lot of preparation that goes into beginning the therapy, which includes assessment, comprehensive history taking, developing trust in the therapeutic relationship and ensuring the client has adequate support and resources for coping with current symptoms. Once those things are established the “reprocessing” part of the therapy can begin. Essentially the client thinks about a past experience that is currently bothersome. This would be one that the therapist and client agree is a good place to start (for a variety of reasons). The therapist helps the client identify the image they see when they think of that event, the negative belief about themselves connected to the event (e.g. “I’m unlovable”, “I’m not safe”, “I am powerless”), the residual emotion(s) that are related to the experience and most importantly what they notice in their body when they think of this experience. Then this really crazy thing happens! The therapist waves her fingers back and forth in front of the client and the client allows his or her eyes to follow those fingers repeatedly while noticing what happens in their mind and body. It sounds nuts right?! Well, it’s not…
4. How does bilateral stimulation heal trauma?
Research shows that this “bilateral stimulation” of eye movements back and forth allows the brain to stimulate a natural healing capacity that we all have. Essentially, when a traumatic or unexpected experience happens to us, it becomes stored in our brain differently than when normal everyday experiences happen. Normal experiences get processed through and we go on. Traumatic experiences essentially get “stuck”. The right hemisphere of the brain, which is more responsible for emotion, is living more in trauma time saying “ahhh! I’m not safe!”; while the left hemisphere of the brain, which is more responsible for logic, is saying “duh, I know this is over”. The main problem here is that the body doesn’t FEEL like it’s over! So, with EMDR we are integrating those two hemispheres of the brain, allowing them to communicate, allowing them to move through the trauma the way that the brain and body needed to but wasn’t able to. This means with one foot in the present and one foot in the past. This means with awareness that the individual survived (even though part of you may not feel like you survived). This means with the safety of being able to say or do the things you were able to do then. Clients often report a complete release of tension or energy, feeling as if a weight has been lifted off of them, a lessening of “noise” in their head, or being able to see the world more accurately and clearly.
5. How is EMDR different than traditional talk therapy or CBT for Trauma?
Talk therapy essentially works the mouth and the head but totally ignores the body. Our body stores so much more of the trauma than our thoughts do and it cannot be ignored. In order to reprocess trauma and release it from ourselves we must listen to what’s happening in our body, check in with the imagery coming to mind and how it may be changing (it often does as we move through the trauma) and also notice how our belief system is changing.
6. How many sessions does it take to benefit from EMDR?
Although EMDR is known to be a much more efficient therapy than traditional talk therapy which can last for years, EMDR is not always a “quick fix”. If you are an anomaly that has only experienced one trauma in your life then maybe it really is a quick therapy for you. However, for many the treatment plan is a bit longer. There really is no way to say how long it will take because we are complex human beings. Relief can begin very shortly after beginning therapy. However, it is also important to know that, as in life, there is an ebb and a flow to the process, highs and lows. Revisiting past experiences that may have been buried deep for years (though causing many symptoms throughout your life) can bring up some increased emotional pain in the short term as we go through the healing process. It’s important to feel safe and comfortable with your therapist so that she may support you throughout all of this.
7. Who is EMDR therapy appropriate for?
The grieving partner who feels like the loss was still yesterday. The person afraid of flying. The first responder having nightmares. The military vet who checks for exits while in public and feels irritable at home. The survivor of an auto accident who finds oneself barely driving. The survivor of a natural disaster whose worldview has completely changed. The person that was bullied and has a low sense of self-worth. The person who is having panic attacks and doesn’t know why. The survivor of domestic violence that has a lot of mistrust and anxiety. The adult with a history of childhood abuse who has difficulty sleeping or managing emotions and finding healthy relationships. And the list goes on…
If you think you could benefit from EMDR, you’re probably right! We basically all could benefit from this therapy at some point in our life. Feel free to email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 302.362.7212 so that we can talk about the right treatment plan for you and your particular situation. I’d be honored to work with you.
Comment below with any thoughts or questions you may have about the EMDR or this post!