As an EMDR therapist, I incorporate it into my practice in two ways. Some choose to work exclusively with EMDR and others utilize it as part of their broader psychotherapy experience.
What is EMDR?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a mental health technique designed to help you process and heal from traumatic memories and other distressing life events. EMDR recognizes that the brain stores normal and traumatic memories differently.
Non traumatic memories are stored smoothly and network to other areas of the brain. Trauma memories don’t network in the same way, as the brain tries to protect itself and blocks out fragments of the event by going offline. Trauma is like a wound that didn’t heal, thus the brain does not get the message that the danger is over. Memories try to break free, creating symptoms in the form of intrusive thoughts, panic, anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, etc.
Traditional talk therapy often fails to adequately address trauma stored in the body. EMDR facilitates accessing the traumatic neural network so that information processing is enhanced resulting in complete adaptive memory formation. This is accomplished by simultaneously focusing on the current circumstances that elicit distress and the incorporation of bilateral stimulation (BLS), usually through lateralized sweeping eye movements, tapping, or the use of tactile or auditory sensors.
BLS impacts how the brain functions. It appears that there is less activation in the amygdala (the threat detection center of your brain) and more activity in the neocortex. There is also evidence of an increase in activity in the corpus callosum, which connects the left and right sides of the brain. The activation of the memory, the reduction of the emotional reactivity, and the increased connectivity allow the memory to be processed and integrated in a more healthy, adaptive way.
Who Can Benefit from EMDR?
EMDR is most well known and is an evidence based treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, ongoing research shows support for its role in treating not only trauma, but other adverse life experiences and the associated psychological and physiological symptoms. For example:
- Panic Attacks
- Chronic illnesses
- Distressing medical issues or medical trauma
- Dissociative disorders
- Eating disorders
- Grief or loss of a loved one
- Performance anxiety
- Sleep disturbances