EMDR (aka Reprocessing Therapy)
At one time or another, we’ve heard ourselves say, “It feels like it just happened yesterday”. This feeling may indicate that a memory has been stored “dysfunctionally”, that is to say, the memory has not been properly integrated. For illustrative purposes, for a memory to be integrated, the information must be processed using both the right and left hemispheres of the brain. In trauma, often the traumatic event is stored in the right side of the brain with no concept of time or history. For integration to take place, new neural pathways must be developed. This happens when the two sides of the brain are in contact with each other, when emotion and reason connect together.
EMDR, also known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing works by providing side-to-side stimulation of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This stimulation engages and encourages integration of feeling and thinking, verbal and non-verbal material. It is similar to REM sleep where we process the events of the day and other thoughts. Reprocessing therapy was developed in 1987 by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. Multiple studies over many years indicate EMDR’s effectiveness in helping people recover from a variety of traumatic experiences.
After a traumatic experience, many people develop beliefs that are untrue about themselves and the world. EMDR helps people gain clarity about what they could or could not do about a traumatic situation they may have been in and where they are now. The experience creates pathways to new perspectives and reality.
What happens in EMDR?
EMDR is a specialized conversation that provides a way for information to be processed. A specific protocol of questions are asked to enable a person to integrate what has happened to them. Similar to watching the scenes of a movie, the therapist asks the client to bring to mind an incident (remembering the images, sounds, impressions and other sensations), the negative thinking caused by the incident, and the new thoughts or beliefs the client would like to have. The therapist then moves his or her hand from side to side in front of the client. The client follows the fingers with his or her eyes. After a short time, connections are made and clients generally think and feel differently about the incident, similar incidents, and themselves. Healing has begun.
As time has gone on, it has become clear that eye movements are not the only way to create integration. The client can hold little vibrating buttons that gently vibrate in each hand or therapist may tap the knees or the hands of the patient, or by use of sounds alternating ear-to-ear. The key is to receive stimulation to both hemispheres of the brain.
Have you had a bad experience with EMDR?
From time to time we hear stories where people have not had successful experiences with EMDR. Sometimes is it due to misattunement of the therapist and sometimes it is due to lack of training by the clinician. Here is an important piece that need to be in place to experience the full benefits of EMDR: The therapist needs to know how to resource the client which means guiding the client into a place where they feel safe and able to freely access their material. If this does not happen or is not possible, EMDR should not take place at this time. Having said this, other modalities may be as powerful for healing.