What Is EMDR?

“We repeat what we don’t repair.”

— Christine Langley-Obaugh

About EMDR Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an extensively researched, highly effective psychotherapy method proven to help people recover from trauma and other distressing life experiences, including PTSD, anxiety, phobias, depression, chronic pain, and a wide range of other mental health problems.

Many national and international organizations recognize EMDR therapy as an effective treatment, including the World Health Organization, the American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs/Dept. of Defense.

What happens when you are traumatized?

Most of the time your body routinely manages new information and experiences without you being aware of it. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and you are traumatized by an overwhelming event (e.g. a car accident) or by being repeatedly subjected to distress (e.g. childhood neglect), your natural coping mechanism can become overloaded. This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain or being "unprocessed"

Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of your brain in a "raw" and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode. This limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network that is associate with emotions and physical sensations, and which is disconnected from the brain’s cortex, where we use language to store memories. The limbic system’s traumatic memories can be continually triggered when you experience events that remind you in some way of the traumatic experience you have been through.

Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present. Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited. EMDR therapy helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory in a very natural way.

How does EMDR help?

No one knows exactly how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. Generally, the brain has the power to heal itself after a psychological trauma. However, sometimes it gets blocked, making it impossible for the trauma to heal itself and this is when EMDR therapy can help.

EMDR therapy seeks to remove emotional blocks, so that healing can resume. You can compare the healing of emotional wounds to the healing of a scrape or cut on your knee. Usually a scrape heals quickly unless something is stuck in the wound. When a piece of dirt or debris gets lodged in the scraped skin, your body cannot heal properly. However, once the wound is cleaned, and the blockage is removed, recovery can continue rapidly. Emotional blocks in the brain work the same way.

EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting and you are no longer “frozen in time”.

Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

What happens during an EMDR session?

EMDR therapy utilizes the natural healing ability of your body. After thorough assessment, you will be asked specific question about a particular disturbing memory. While you are holding that memory in your mind, the therapist will then use a form of bilateral stimulation in brief sets. The stimulation may either be a bar of moving light that you must track from side to side with your eyes, alternating buzzing sensation from tactile units that you hold in your hands, or sometimes auditory stimulation which involves sound alternating from ear to ear in headphones.

Whichever form of bilateral stimulation you choose, your therapist will work closely with you to ensure that you are comfortable. After the therapist applies short sets of bilateral stimulation, s/he will pause the stimulus and ask you to report back on what you are noticing. Experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images, and feelings.

With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past. Other associated memories may also heal at the same time. This healing of related memories can lead to dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life.

What can be treated with EMDR?

FAQs

In a word, “yes!” EMDR therapy helps children and adults of all ages. Therapists use EMDR therapy to address a wide range of challenges. Click here to read the latest publications about EMDR therapy and its wide range of clinical applications.

EMDR therapy is an innovative clinical treatment which has successfully helped millions of individuals around the world. The validity and reliability of EMDR therapy has been established by rigorous research. There are now more than thirty controlled studies of EMDR therapy, making it the most thoroughly researched method used in the treatment of trauma. To read more about EMDR therapy, please visit http://emdria.omeka.net for a full category of research abstracts.

Although EMDR therapy offers quick relief as compared to traditional talk therapy, you may feel worse before you feel better. With EMDR therapy there is a rapid reprocessing that takes place in the therapists office and the reprocessing continues in your brain even after your session is over. Thus, the feelings associated with EMDR therapy can feel “intense” for a while as your brain adapts. Rest assured that before any reprocessing begins, your therapist will work with you to ensure that you are equipped to cope with any intense emotions when they arise.

EMDR therapy is typically regarded as a “faster” approach than traditional talk therapy. EMDR therapy is an 8-phase protocol. However, the pace of transition between phases will depend largely on the individual client, the complexity of their trauma, and her or his unique therapy needs. We encourage you to raise concerns with your therapist if you feel that therapy is moving too slow or too fast. We are here to help!

While the therapist will need you to visualize the traumatic experience and ask a few questions about your feelings and body sensations at the start of the reprocessing session, you do not need to describe what happened in great detail. Many people fear that they will be re-traumatized in telling their story, but part of the beauty of EMDR therapy is that allows the client to share as much or little about the precipitating event as they wish.

During EMDR therapy treatment, you will remain in control, fully alert and wide awake. EMDR therapy is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time. Throughout the session, your therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing and intervene as little as possible. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously, and new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally from within. As a result, most people experience EMDR therapy as being a natural and very empowering therapy.

In a word, “yes!” EMDR therapy helps children and adults of all ages. Therapists use EMDR therapy to address a wide range of challenges. Click here to read the latest publications about EMDR therapy and its wide range of clinical applications.

EMDR therapy is an innovative clinical treatment which has successfully helped millions of individuals around the world. The validity and reliability of EMDR therapy has been established by rigorous research. There are now more than thirty controlled studies of EMDR therapy, making it the most thoroughly researched method used in the treatment of trauma. To read more about EMDR therapy, please visit http://emdria.omeka.net for a full category of research abstracts.

Although EMDR therapy offers quick relief as compared to traditional talk therapy, you may feel worse before you feel better. With EMDR therapy there is a rapid reprocessing that takes place in the therapists office and the reprocessing continues in your brain even after your session is over. Thus, the feelings associated with EMDR therapy can feel “intense” for a while as your brain adapts. Rest assured that before any reprocessing begins, your therapist will work with you to ensure that you are equipped to cope with any intense emotions when they arise.

EMDR therapy is typically regarded as a “faster” approach than traditional talk therapy. EMDR therapy is an 8-phase protocol. However, the pace of transition between phases will depend largely on the individual client, the complexity of their trauma, and her or his unique therapy needs. We encourage you to raise concerns with your therapist if you feel that therapy is moving too slow or too fast. We are here to help!

While the therapist will need you to visualize the traumatic experience and ask a few questions about your feelings and body sensations at the start of the reprocessing session, you do not need to describe what happened in great detail. Many people fear that they will be re-traumatized in telling their story, but part of the beauty of EMDR therapy is that allows the client to share as much or little about the precipitating event as they wish.

During EMDR therapy treatment, you will remain in control, fully alert and wide awake. EMDR therapy is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time. Throughout the session, your therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing and intervene as little as possible. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously, and new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally from within. As a result, most people experience EMDR therapy as being a natural and very empowering therapy.