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EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a powerful tool to help people heal from past trauma and let go of negative beliefs that have gotten in their way. EMDR was developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., in 1987, and stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to change the way traumatic memories are stored in the brain.

What is bilateral stimulation?

Bilateral stimulation is stimulating the left and right sides of the body back and forth, using tapping, sound, or light. Originally, bilateral stimulation in EMDR was achieved using eye movements, hence the words “eye movement” in the name Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

The website of the EMDR Institute provides further details:

“EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.  Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. 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 festers and causes pain.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes.  The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health.  If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR therapy training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.”

What can be treated with EMDR?

Trauma, depression, anxiety, phobias, and compulsive behaviors can all be treated with EMDR. While many therapies focus on treating the symptoms of a problem, EMDR gets to the root of the problem by targeting the earliest memories or experiences that are tied to the problem.

How is EMDR different from other therapies?

EMDR is different from other therapies in that EMDR involves a deeper level of processing than other therapies. In EMDR we are using the limbic brain (the emotion and memory center of the brain) whereas most other therapies use the prefrontal cortex (the language and logic center of the brain). EMDR involves less dialogue between the therapist and the client and more focused, attuned processing. However, the best way to find out how EMDR is different from other therapies is to try it.

What is Attachment-Focused EMDR?

EMDR was originally developed for what is called single incident trauma, meaning a traumatic event that happened one time, like a car accident. Attachment Focused EMDR focuses on helping people heal from developmental and relational trauma.

Developmental and relational trauma

Developmental trauma is trauma that someone went through during crucial developmental stages in their life, meaning early childhood, and relational trauma is trauma that involves people who are in close relationship to you. For example, early childhood abuse by a relative would be considered relational developmental trauma and would be best treated by Attachment Focused EMDR. Attachment Focused EMDR places a greater emphasis than traditional EMDR on building resources of safety and resiliency and includes training on how to treat complex trauma.

How effective is EMDR?

EMDR has been widely researched since its creation in 1987. Research done all over the world has proven that EMDR is one of the most effective treatment modalities for the treatment of trauma and complex trauma. Click here for an overview of research that demonstrates EMDR’s efficacy.

What if I’ve tried EMDR before and had a bad experience?

EMDR is a powerful tool and. When not used correctly, has the capacity to cause a person to become emotionally overwhelmed. I’m so sorry if this has been your experience. If it has, the practitioner with whom you worked may not have been trained in Attachment-Focused EMDR or may not have been attuned enough to your particular needs. I would encourage you to try EMDR again with an Attachment Focused EMDR practitioner. When I do EMDR with my clients I am focused on attuning to their needs and monitoring their levels of emotional arousal so as not to overwhelm them. I would encourage you to try EMDR with me and see if you have a different experience.

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