What is EMDR?
After years of doing my own therapy work, I was blown away at the effectiveness of EMDR techniques and have since attended certification courses and begun using it with my own clients.
What is EMDR?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing and is especially effective in treating trauma. Trauma can rear it’s head in all sorts of unhelpful ways including depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, burn out, and even in your body in physical ways. There’s some research that suggests conditions such as fibromyalgia, migraines, teeth grinding, and chronic pain may be linked to trauma and can be helped using EMDR.
EMDR is based on the understanding of how our brains store traumatic memories in “broken” ways. A “normal” memory doesn’t usually carry the same emotionality, body reaction, and hurt that a memory from trauma does, and that’s where EMDR targets and works.
A therapy session that includes EMDR work will be structured a little differently, with a sort of order and steps. Additionally, EMDR therapists work with clients on “resource building” — learning skills and techniques to help alleviate distresss between sessions and in every day life. These skills may include techniques such as lightstream, container, and safe/comfortable place. Based on the same ideas as mindfulness, resource building helps give the client control over their emotions and thoughts.
Another difference in EMDR therapy from a conventional therapy session is that there is less emphasis on the narrative of the trauma. While many individuals will find relief in simply telling the story of their traumatic experience, some sufferers find it more distressing. EMDR avoids “re-traumatizing” clients by not specifically asking the client to tell the story of the trauma with all it’s horrifying details, but simply to focus on the lingering effects.
How does it work?
When you and your therapist feel ready to start processing the trauma, your EMDR trained therapist will begin asking some specific questions about the event. Something like “What picture in your mind represents the worst part of the distressing event?”. You will then be guided through talk about negative and positive cognitions, or beliefs about yourself as a result of the traumatic event. Many individuals may have a residual feeling of not being good enough, feeling unlovable, not feeling safe, or feeling as if the traumatic event was their fault. The therapist will then guide you through connecting with the way that emotion has manifested itself in your body and thinking about what you want to believe about yourself when thinking about the event: I am powerful / I am good enough / I did the best I could / etc..
It is then time for the eye movement. Some clinicians may use tappers/pulsars, eye movements, audio, or tapping the sides of the clients knees. Whatever the client is comfortable with. The whole idea here is to cause bilateral stimulation in the brain by tapping back and forth on either side of the clients body or having them move their eyes back and forth.
What does it look like?
EMDR is a fairly complex process to explain in text, but here are some other resources that can be really helpful in understanding how it works:
If you or someone you know is interested in working with an EMDR trained therapist, check out the EMDRIA website for a listing of EMDR therapists in your area.