EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

…is a psychological treatment method that helps people heal from trauma and distressing experiences. It’s guided by the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model, which posits that positive or successful experiences encourage the brain’s natural capacity to process adversity and achieve a state of health and wellness. 

If adverse life experiences are not met with adequate support or helpful conditions at the time,  the healing process may be disrupted. This often results in symptoms such as anxiety, depression, panic, or physical illness. EMDR provides an opportunity for the brain to reprocess distressing experiences so that wellness maybe restored. Basically, it helps you shift how you relate to traumatic memories so that they no longer create an unhealthy level of distress. 

EMDR originated in the late 1980s and has been well researched and proven to be an effective treatment for trauma. It’s worth noting here that “trauma” doesn’t only refer to big, dramatic events such as natural disasters, war, or accidents. We ALL experience some form of trauma. Often, the less obvious or dramatic experiences do the most damage because they go unrecognized. 

Originally EMDR utilized eye movements to replicate the neurological processing which occurs during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Nowadays, eye movements are just one way to facilitate reprocessing. Other options include audio (through the use of headphones) and tactile stimulation (through the use of a handheld device). 

During the desensitization phase of EMDR, the clinician will administer a form of bilateral stimulation to activate the brain while the client/patient focuses their attention on the distressing event. Bilateral stimulation activates a sense of relaxation, increases focus and allows the mind to access a deeper level of consciousness. There are different theories regarding the brain science related to this process.

EMDR is an 8 phase process that begins with history taking and treatment planning. It includes preparing for the experience by learning about the process and identifying helpful coping strategies, identifying a target memory that relates to symptoms, reprocessing (where you experience bilateral stimulation), installing a positive belief, checking in with the body, closure, and reevaluation to ensure progress is maintained over time.

Although the 8 phase protocol is followed for EMDR treatment, the process looks different for different people and at different times. There’s no way to predict how long it will take to decrease or eliminate distress and there’s no way to know how a person will process disturbances. EMDR is an individual journey mapped out by the mind. I serve as a guide but your own brain facilitates healing. Sometimes (although rarely, in my experience) a disturbance is resolved in a single session, sometimes it takes many sessions to reprocess.

I find that EMDR works best when people are open to it and trust the process. Overthinking, resisting emotion, or focusing on fear can block healing. That said, this is why the 8 phase protocol is so important. The preparation phase is crucial and will help you feel ready to dive into desensitization.

EMDR is best understood through experiencing. Though it may not be right for everyone, I offer it when it seems beneficial. Treatment is a collaborative effort and my clients always have the opportunity to discuss their options and ask questions. Together, we’ll decide how to achieve the results you seek.

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