Unlocking Healing Through EMDR Therapy
What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic intervention designed to facilitate the healing of trauma by harnessing the body’s natural healing system. EMDR employs Bilateral Stimulation (BLS), which includes auditory cues, tactile sensations, or eye movements, to effectively address traumatic memories and negative cognitions. BLS initiates a natural process known as “adaptive information processing,” allowing information, such as memories and thoughts, to be stored in a functional and healthy manner in the brain, thus preventing individuals from being trapped in a triggered and hypervigilant state.
There are several essential aspects of EMDR treatment, which are explained below:
- Preparation: EMDR necessitates thorough preparation. The therapist ensures that the client has adequate “resources” to commence the process. This involves visualization techniques that activate a sense of safety within the body, enabling individuals to build internal confidence in confronting challenging memories.
- History Taking: This phase involves creating a life timeline, commencing with family history, including generational trauma, pregnancy-related trauma, and birth experiences. The timeline encompasses both traumatic and positive memories, allowing the clinician and individual to connect the dots and construct a map of how core beliefs evolve throughout one’s life.
- Processing: During the reprocessing stage of EMDR, the session focuses on identifying “targets.” These targets can be memories, negative cognitions, bodily sensations, or emotions. They are processed silently while engaging in sets of BLS for one to two minutes at a time. After each set, the therapist asks the client, “What did you notice?” The individual briefly describes their thoughts during the BLS, which can encompass internal dialogue, imagery, or other memories. It’s crucial to allow the mind to wander freely and to “trust the process.” This continues until the target feels resolved, which may require one or several sessions, always with the therapist ensuring the client’s sense of safety.
- Installation: As targets are resolved, there is invariably a positive belief that the individual wishes to embrace. This could include thoughts like, “I am safe now,” “I am lovable,” or “I am enough as I am.” BLS is employed to further reinforce these beliefs until they become natural resources for the client. In essence, the individual transitions from “wanting to believe something is true” to feeling emotionally connected to these new positive beliefs, making belief transformation effortless.
- Body Scanning: Throughout EMDR, individuals may notice bodily sensations that resemble where trauma is stored in their bodies. For instance, they might experience anxiety in their spine, hopelessness in their chest, or discomfort in their legs. Each session includes a body scan to observe whether these sensations diminish, with the clinician guiding the client through the process of resolution.
- Future Template: EMDR extends its reach into the future, allowing clients to envision a future where they draw upon the resources cultivated during processing. This addresses the fear of potential future stressors and empowers individuals to navigate challenges with confidence, whether in public speaking, interacting with difficult family members, or starting a new job.
- Re-evaluation: Each session involves reviewing the targets from the previous session. An interesting aspect of EMDR is that once the Adaptive Information Processing system is activated, it continues between sessions, manifesting as dreams, altered thought processes, other memories emerging, or shifts in emotional states. The clinician encourages clients to take note of these occurrences and report them in subsequent sessions.
- Containment: Each session concludes with a check-in about the client’s emotional state following target processing. Many sessions conclude with a containment exercise that helps the client feel secure as they transition back into the real world. Ensuring that the client feels adequately resourced and safe when ending the session is of paramount importance.
It’s worth noting that EMDR encompasses various protocols and adaptations. Your therapist will describe these along the way to ensure your complete understanding of the process.
Why does it work?
While the exact mechanisms underlying the effectiveness of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) remain uncertain, several theories provide valuable insights:
Memory Reconsolidation: A leading theory suggests that EMDR may work by facilitating memory reconsolidation. When traumatic memories are recalled during EMDR sessions while engaging in bilateral stimulation (such as eye movements or taps), it may disrupt the way these memories are stored in the brain, making them less distressing and allowing for healthier reorganization and processing.
Dual Attention: EMDR incorporates dual attention, where individuals focus on both the traumatic memory and external bilateral stimulation. This dual focus may reduce the emotional intensity of the memory by diverting cognitive resources away from its distressing aspects.
Desensitization: The “Desensitization” in EMDR’s name refers to the gradual reduction of emotional distress associated with traumatic memories. Through repeated exposure to the memory during bilateral stimulation, individuals may become less sensitive to the distressing emotions and physical sensations linked to the trauma.
Processing and Integration: EMDR may aid in processing and integrating traumatic memories by facilitating connections between the traumatic event and more adaptive beliefs and emotions. This can lead to a change in how individuals perceive and respond to the traumatic memory.
Bilateral Stimulation: The rhythmic bilateral stimulation used in EMDR is believed to mimic the natural processing that occurs during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Some researchers suggest that this stimulation may enhance the brain’s ability to process and reorganize memories, including traumatic ones.
Despite uncertainties about “why” EMDR is effective, its repeated success in treating symptoms of trauma, anxiety, phobias, dissociation, and more cannot be denied. EMDR serves as a powerful beacon of hope and healing, with each session marking a step toward a brighter, more resilient self, equipped with newfound beliefs and resources that facilitate growth and healing.
To begin your EMDR journey at Brighter Minds Therapy, reach out today!