What Is EMDR?
If you’re suffering from trauma, you’re no stranger to triggers. They act like cracks in present-day reality that open to the unresolved trauma of your past. Triggers happen in a flash as automatic responses connected to the trauma— disruptive pieces of sensory, emotional, and somatic memories. One of the most effective methods for diffusing and eliminating triggers is EMDR, which will help to separate your emotional responses from deep rooted and often unconscious reminders of distressing or disturbing experiences.
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, an evidence-based treatment for trauma, phobias, and other challenging feelings. In my practice I use side to side eye movement for the bilateral stimulation required in EMDR. The length of treatment depends on how many traumas you’ve experienced, and how much your nervous system is being impacted by those traumas. Some triggers and phobias are resolved in just a few sessions, others, such as complex (multiple) trauma, take longer.
Some uses for EMDR include but are not limited to:
physical assault or abuse
natural and man-made disasters
panic attacks and anxiety
grief and loss
A metaphor I came up with to describe how EMDR works is to think of how it feels to have too many tabs and folders open on your computer. These represent the minefield of triggers related to the target. Trauma is stored in the body through emotional and procedural (sensations, patterns of movement…) implicit memories, these are the triggers. EMDR consolidates all of the tabs and folders into one which tells your trauma story in a way that no longer causes you distress. It removes the minefields allowing for more ease in your day-to-day life.
Before starting EMDR treatment we’ll discuss your goals, then I’ll help you narrow them down to prioritize one. Next, we’ll look at what has stood in the way of your accomplishing this goal, often trauma, and distill that down to one sentence, which is called the target.
There will also be a corresponding negative belief, such as “I’m not safe”, “I have to be perfect and please everyone”, or “I am not worthy”. These negative believes are usually deeply rooted in the subconscious, intellectually you may know they’re not true yet your body and mind may still respond as though they are true. EMDR is one of the few methods that can help to nullify these deeply held believes.
I’ll ask how much discomfort or distress you’re feeling on a scale of 0 to 10 when you hear the target read aloud, and what emotions and sensations inform you of that discomfort.
Now we’re ready to start the bilateral stimulation using sets of rapid eye movement, or tapping if needed. I find EMDR to be just as effective online as it was when I met clients in person. I’ll check in with you after each set to see what came up for you and how you’re doing.
You can expect to feel a range of emotions and sensations throughout the treatment. At times it can feel like a roller coaster of twists and turns, highs and lows, as your nervous system and brain reorganize and integrate the distressing event or trauma at the root of the target.
You’ll also take note of and share your thoughts, in some cases memories will surface. If you begin to dissociate, I’ll help you come back to a grounded state, and I’ll make sure you feel safe throughout.
As we approach the end of the session, I’ll check in again to see what number your discomfort or distress is at before placing the target and negative belief into a container. The container is a practice I’ll teach you, and is often used in EMDR to help you to end the session in a calm state and to minimize the chance of the target coming up when you’re not in session.
In most cases the number steadily works its way down with each session until we get to 0 or neutral. Less commonly, it moves up and down a bit while still working its way down to 0 or neutral.
Once 0 or neutral is achieved we install your newly realized positive belief. People tend to feel calm and relaxed, like a weight has been lifted. Clients describe feeling as though the target is very far away, no longer able to trigger or upset them.
I continue to be amazed by the results I see in my clients through the use of EMDR. The video below offers a simple and brief introduction.