Introduction to EMDR
(Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
We are delighted to offer this therapeutic tool at Flourish! Several of our staff therapists are trained in providing EMDR, both virtually through telehealth and in person.
What is EMDR?
Most of the time, your body 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, traumatic birth, etc) or by being repeatedly subjected to distress (e.g. childhood neglect), your natural coping mechanisms can become overloaded. This can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain “unprocessed”. Since the experience is locked there, it continues to be triggered whenever a reminder comes up. These improperly stored or stuck images, thoughts, and feelings are very distressing and can even cause flashbacks of the original event. This can be the basis for discomfort and negative emotions, such as fear and helplessness.
Within the brain is most of the information you need to resolve this process. The limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network that is associated with emotions and physical sensations, which are disconnected from the brain’s cortex where language is used to store memories. EMDR helps create connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory.
How does EMDR work?
Like the body’s ability to heal a cut, the brain is able to find a way to deal with even the most difficult of experiences. This gets de-railed when emotion overwhelms the brain, but it gets stimulated by bi-lateral information coming in. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation so that both the left (logic) and right (emotions) sides of the brain get involved in processing the memory: the right side of the brain allows you to experience the emotions and the left side of the brain adds the logical thinking that puts something in perspective.
Eye movements, or tapping, are used to unlock the system and allow the brain to process the experience. 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. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life.
What is an EMDR session like?
After a thorough assessment and development of a treatment plan, you will be asked specific questions about a particular disturbing memory. Eye movements, similar to those during REM sleep, will be recreated by asking you to watch a moving target across your visual field (bilateral stimulation). The eye movements will last for a short while, then stop. You will be asked to report on the experiences you had during these eye movements.
During EMDR treatment, you will remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake. This is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time. Throughout the session, the 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 as being a natural and very empowering therapy.