EMDR–EYE MOVEMENT DESENSITIZATION & REPROCESSING
“Traumatic experiences may have happened long ago, and we may not recognize how much they affected us. The negative emotions, behaviors, beliefs, and sensations that cause chronic problems generally can be tracked back to these unprocessed memories. In that way, the past stays present. EMDR can help you make sense of the trauma-based symptoms (like anxiety, panic attacks, sadness, anger/rage, phobias) and identify their cause”-Dr. Francine Shapiro, from her book “Getting Past Your Past.”
What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a well-researched psychotherapy approach that enables people to heal from emotional distress and symptoms related to trauma. Trauma based experiences affect the way a person views themselves and others. The resulting negative emotions, beliefs, or behaviors become the symptoms of a person’s suffering, not its cause. While many therapies work on minimizing symptoms, EMDR targets the cause: trauma-based memories that are “frozen” or unprocessed in the brain’s memory network. Discovered in the late 1980s by Dr. Francine Shapiro, EMDR gave new hope to combat veterans that were experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition regarded as difficult to treat. Her research hypothesized that when trauma-based memories were re-processed in the sufferer’s brain, the distressing symptoms decreased or disappeared altogether. Over the last 25 years, EMDR therapy has evolved into a comprehensive, highly effective therapy used in healing people that have experienced both large and small traumas.
How Does it Work
The goal of EMDR therapy is to completely “process” past traumatic events that are causing symptoms in a person’s current life. “Processing” does not mean just talking about negative memories, or identifying ways to minimize the related symptoms such as anxiety, depression or feelings of unworthiness, for example. It means setting up a learning state that allows these past experiences to be filed and stored appropriately in the brain’s memory network. This often results in increased insight regarding both previously disturbing events and long held negative thoughts about the self. During an EMDR session, the client may call to mind a visual image related to the memory, a resulting negative belief about self, and the related emotions and body sensations that occur. During this part of the therapy, the client follows right-to-left eye movement to repeatedly activate opposite sides of the brain, like what happens during REM sleep when memories are “processed”. Research has shown that the long-term effects of untreated childhood trauma get carried over into adulthood and are passed down to the next generation. Adults who grew up with physical/sexual/verbal abuse, physically or mentally ill parents, bullying, family dysfunction, domestic violence, family members with addictions, etc. most likely experienced a great deal of trauma as children. In adulthood, the trauma now presents itself through symptoms such as anxiety, depression, job performance issues, substance abuse, chronic low self-esteem, anger/rage, etc. EMDR has been used to effectively treat thousands and thousands of people who experienced forms of early childhood trauma.
What is a Session Like?
EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment that starts with comprehensive history-taking to get a clear understanding of the client’s memory, associated negative beliefs, desired positive beliefs, and accompanying body sensations. Once the clinician has determined which memory to target first, the client is asked to recall the worst aspect of the memory together with the accompanying negative beliefs and bodily sensations. The client will be directed to move their eyes from side to side or employ some other form of bilateral stimulation (BLS) via visual, auditory, or tactile experiences. Within the client’s brain, associations arise, and the client will begin to process the memory and the related negative feelings in a more adaptive way. The memory that was once charged with emotion becomes less distressing. In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional level. For instance, a victim of a rape shifts from feeling horror and powerlessness to “I survived it and I am strong.” EMDR therapy leaves clients feeling empowered by the very experiences that once crippled them.
If you experience any of these trauma-based symptoms, ask your therapist if EMDR is right for you.
ANGER/RAGE EATING DISORDERS PTSD or ANXIETY DEPRESSION
FEARS/PHOBIAS INTIMACY ISSUES SEXUAL ADDICTIONS PANIC ATTACKS
SUBSTANCE ABUSE SOCIAL ISOLATION DIFFICULTY TRUSTING FEAR OF FAILURE
EXTREMEGUILT/SHAME LOW SELF-ESTEEM PERFORMANCE ANXIETY
Carol Van Kampen, LMSW
Carol Van Kampen, LMSW is an individual private practice psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety, depression, grief, and trauma treatment at Marsh Psychology Group. Carol is EMDR trained. Contact her at marshpsychologygroup.com