What Is EMDR Therapy?
Have you ever had a negative belief about yourself that you knew was false, but it felt true? Maybe you told yourself that you were unlovable, a failure, or a hopeless case. While you knew that this belief was irrational, you couldn’t seem to shake its effect on you. The emotional part of you believed it even though the logical part didn’t.
EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing, is an approach to therapy that seeks to move information from the emotional side of the brain to the logical side. Just like a phone has to update from time to time, EMDR helps the brain update its processing system with new information. It desensitizes the emotional pain of intrusive thoughts and beliefs so that they don’t overwhelm you as much.
EMDR does this by getting right to the source of negative beliefs. This is why it’s most commonly used as a form of trauma treatment. Most negative beliefs and self-perceptions stem from past emotional wounds that haven’t been resolved yet. EMDR accesses these wounds and helps you reduce the pain they caused.
How Effective Is EMDR?
Today, EMDR is widely considered the gold standard of trauma and PTSD therapy. According to most studies, EMDR provides relief for about 80-to-90-percent of single-trauma survivors and 77-percent of multiple-trauma survivors. The American Psychiatric Association, World Health Organization, and Department of Veteran’s Affairs have all named EMDR a top choice for trauma treatment.
What makes EMDR therapy so powerful? When trauma happens, the memory of your experience is too painful for your brain to process. As a result, the memory gets “stuck” in your nervous system and feels like it’s happening long after it’s done. EMDR seeks to help your brain process the painful event so that it doesn’t feel as present in your life. It gets right to the source of your emotional pain instead of merely addressing the symptoms.
Think of it like a splinter. If you leave a splinter in your skin, it will remain stuck and won’t heal. If you remove the splinter and clean it out, your body is able to naturally heal the wound on its own. It’s the same thing with emotional pain. Distressing events can get stuck in your nervous system, and until you work through them, the distress won’t go away on its own. EMDR addresses the source of your emotional pain and allows your brain to begin its natural healing process.
What Does EMDR Therapy Look Like?
While EMDR can help with a wide variety of pain points, my focus and specialized training is in treating survivors of child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and various forms of childhood trauma. I also use EMDR to help people with low self-esteem as well as people who are struggling but feel like nothing “bad enough” has happened that qualifies as trauma.
The first step in the healing process is providing education about EMDR and giving you coping strategies to manage your stress levels. Learning new grounding skills can help you handle the processing of your EMDR targets. This way, you can use your skills to center yourself if memories ever feel too distressing.
Once you are adequately prepared, we will start sorting through traumatic memories. You will begin by identifying a “target” memory of your trauma and a negative belief that it caused. Then you will perform bilateral stimulation techniques, such as tapping along to different sounds or following my finger with side-to-side eye movements. Doing these exercises repeatedly can help your brain form new associations with negative memories. Stimulating both sides of the brain can help you access memories that have been stored with faulty information (e.g., “My childhood trauma was my fault”) and correct them with accurate and adaptive information.
Why Is EMDR Better Than Other Approaches To Trauma Therapy?
EMDR is not the same as talk therapy, the form of treatment that most clients are familiar with. You can’t just talk your way out of trauma, no matter how hard you try. When you’ve been traumatized, your brain and body constantly relive the past in smells, sights, tastes, and words that you can’t directly control. EMDR can lessen and neutralize trauma so that you don’t have to keep reliving it.
One of the things I love best about EMDR is the insight that it allows clients to gain. It’s so empowering to come to the conclusion that you are a good person, that trauma is not your fault, or that the past does not define you. I love to watch clients walk away with a more balanced and accurate perspective of the past and more hope for the future.
My own experience with EMDR
As a teenager, I was a passenger in a severe car accident that impacted me well into adulthood. I became very fearful of being in cars and felt immense survivor’s guilt. Without fail, I would experience a month of terrible depression around the anniversary of the accident. Before I underwent EMDR treatment myself in 2011, I thought counseling did not work. Yes, I know the irony of this, as I am a therapist myself today. I had several therapists prior to starting EMDR and although they were lovely people who helped me out in minor ways, talk therapy did not relieve my symptoms.
Once I tried EMDR, I noticed an improvement in my own functioning after just a few sessions. I wasn’t as hypervigilant in the car. The anniversary of the accident rolled around, and I did not even notice. I continued to work on other experiences with EMDR and it changed my life.
Today, I use EMDR therapy because I know that it works. It does not erase traumatic memories, but it can minimize the pain of living with them. With my support and your commitment to the healing process, I am confident that you can live a life where trauma no longer dictates your choices and experiences.
Your Past Does Not Define You
If you’re tired of living in the shadow of your traumatic past, I would be honored to help you step into a brighter future. To get started, you can book a free 15-minute phone consultation with my online calendar.