What is EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a powerful therapy technique that has helped millions of people suffering from trauma, anxiety, panic, posttraumatic stress, disturbing life experiences, and many more emotional issues. These conditions traditionally have been very difficult and time-consuming to treat using conventional talk therapy. However, as sound clinical research has shown, EMDR therapy can bring quick and lasting relief for these types of problems. It is the recommended “best practice” treatment for PTSD.
EMDR treatment uses tapping, auditory sounds, or eye movements to activate opposite sides of the brain. This appears to “unlock” and release emotional experiences that are trapped in the nervous system. New associations are made by the client, which result in the resolution of issues and a more peaceful state.
Check out this video about EMDR:
How does EMDR work?
When disturbing experiences happen, they are stored in the brain with the original sights, sounds, smells, thoughts, and feelings experienced in that moment of time. This can be very traumatic. When a person is extremely upset or frightened, the brain does not process the experience in a good way. Instead it gets locked or frozen in the nervous system in a not-so-helpful way. Then , whenever the brain is somehow reminded of the experience, these original feelings and thoughts are triggered and the person unconsciously reacts, as if they were back in time re-experiencing the original disturbing event. They may not even be aware of the link between the original experience and the current trigger. This explains why we sometimes act in ways that we don’t understand. We just ‘react’. Even though the person may be unaware, the memory continues to cause problems throughout their life.
EMDR does two important things for this person. First, it helps the memory to become “unlocked” from the nervous system and second, it helps the brain to reprocess it to a healthy resolution. The bad part of the memory is digested and eliminated from the nervous system. The person continues to remember the event, but without the emotional charge and triggers. As a result, the disturbing experience no longer negatively affects their life.
What problems does EMDR help with?
EMDR can help with any problem that can be traced back to an earlier experience, even childhood. The experience may have been traumatic, such as a life-threatening event or severe abuse, or it may have been less traumatic, such as the way you were raised by your parents, an illness, an upsetting experience at work, or a failed relationship. Any negative experience that you can remember that still feels upsetting to you today when you think about it, probably would benefit from EMDR.
Anxiety, panic, PTSD, low self-esteem, performance anxiety, grief, relationship and parenting problems, and depression can usually be improved through EMDR.
What happens in an EMDR session?
A typical EMDR session lasts 50-80 minutes. It begins by the therapist and client choosing a disturbing event that can be linked to the current problem the client is seeking treatment for. The therapist will ask the client to identify different aspects of the event. While the client holds these aspects in their mind, the therapist begins the bilateral stimulation by tapping, tones, or eye movements. The therapist continues to guide the process until the client’s emotions are no longer upsetting and the client reports positive thoughts and feelings about themself.
Is there any discomfort during an EMDR session?
EMDR can cause strong feelings and sometimes tension or sensations in the body during the treatment session. This is normal and expected, since the memory is being “unlocked” and the original emotions and sensations are being released from the nervous system. However, this is usually very brief and the unpleasant feelings usually alleviated by the end of the treatment session.
Is EMDR similar to hypnosis?
No. During an EMDR session, the client is fully awake, alert, and in control at all times. They can stop the session at any point, if it becomes too uncomfortable. The healing with EMDR is much faster than hypnotherapy.
How often and how many EMDR sessions would I need?
EMDR is most effective when the client schedules sessions on a regular basis, such as weekly. The first few sessions are spent getting to know you and the issues that brought you into treatment. During this time, I assess if EMDR can be used to help you. The number of sessions after that depends on the number of disturbing life experiences we choose to target. One disturbing experience is processed during each subsequent session. An average course of treatment is somewhere between 5 and 15 sessions. EMDR is considered to be a short-term treatment compared to the conventional talk therapy models.
What type of training does an EMDR therapist need to have?
EMDR is a specialization that requires extensive post-graduate training. There is a specific protocol that should be followed during the course of treatment. The EMDR Institute of America (EMDRIA) provides this training for professionals. I recommend therapists who have been thoroughly trained by EMDRIA.
EMDRIA offers two levels of training, Basic and Advanced. I have completed the Advanced training and am working toward certification.