WHAT IS EMDR? EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a powerful psychotherapy method that works on both the emotional and physiological basis of the client’s problems to bring about change and long-lasting relief. Originally used for trauma, it has evolved for usage with phobias, grief, addiction, depression and chronic pain. It has been approved as one of the most effective treatment for PTSD by the Department of Defense, Veterans’ Association, and the American Psychiatric Association.
The brain cannot process information as it ordinarily does when a person is very upset. One moment becomes “frozen” and a person may remember a trauma that feels as bad as if they were going through it for the very first time. That is because the feelings, sounds, smells and images have not changed. Therefore, such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person relates to other people or the way a person sees the world. For example, a woman may see a tall male who is smoking a cigarette and walking down the sidewalk . She instantly starts perspiring, her heart beats more rapidly, and she suddenly develops a headache. In avoidance, she may walk in the opposite direction. She is instantly reliving the trauma of a male who physically abused her as a child. Another person walking down the same street, observing the same male, would have no associations of him.
EMDR appears to have a direct effect on the way the brain processes information. Following a successful EMDR session, normal information processing is resumed, and a person no longer relives the sounds, images and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You still remember what happened, but it is far less upsetting and you see it in a new way.
EMDR uses bi-lateral stimulation, or right-left, alternating tracking by use of eye movements, tones, or tactile stimulation such as hand taps or music. EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movements) sleep.
WHY SHOULD I TRY EMDR AND HOW DOES IT WORK? It’s not clear exactly how EMDR works. However, several scientifically-controlled studies have consistently found EMDR effectively decreases/eliminates the symptoms of post traumatic stress for the majority of clients. Clients often report improvement in other associated symptoms such as anxiety.
Brain scan images and latest research show amazing results before and after an EMDR session. The overstimulation or activity in the brain beforehand because of the PTSD symptoms diminish dramatically! The scans show how calm the brain actually becomes.
Not only does EMDR help to resolve the feelings and thoughts related to the disturbing memory, but helps strengthen feelings of self-esteem, confidence and calmness.
WHAT IS AN EMDR SESSION LIKE? A typical EMDR session begins by having the person think of a “safe place” which has been established prior in order to feel calm, safe and use as a self-soothing tool outside of the session whenever anxiety or stress heightens. This provides a calm, positive environment in which to continue the session.
The person then is asked to bring up a disturbing image or memory. Eye-movements, or bi-lateral stimulation is again used while the person focuses on the disturbing image. These bi-lateral stimulations are usually 15-30 seconds in sequence. A session can last as long as 30 minutes to 90 minutes. When the memory becomes desensitized, the event can be discussed and related with zero or very little disturbance. Reprocessing occurs when the new insights or understandings, thoughts, feelings and sensations are paired up with the old distressing feelings, images and thoughts, and the person can truly say and believe that “I am safe” rather than “I am not safe”, or “I am lovable” versus “I am unlovable.” Or, “it is really in the past and over!” One client exclaimed “Why did I wait so long to do this! I would have saved several years of torment.”
Body-mind work accompanies EMDR. The person is asked to identify where they are holding bodily sensations and feelings. Some may be feeling nauseated, or experiencing a tightness in their chest. During the process, those symptoms usually diminish altogether. They are asked to measure their distress (SUDS) on a scale of 0-10 (with 10 being the most disturbing). Desensitization and reprocessing occur when the SUDS level is 0 or 1. Also quantified is their positive and negative cognition about themselves. They usually start out with a low score (1-7, with 7 being completely true) about the validity of their positive thought, such as “I am safe.” By the end of the sessions for the particular event, the truthfulness of the positive thought usually measures 7.
CAN EMDR BE USED BY CHILDREN AS WELL AS ADULTS? Absolutely. I have successfully utilized EMDR with both adults of all ages, as well as children and teens in resolving emotional difficulties caused by disturbing or frightening life experiences. Because of these types of experiences, children lose a sense of control over their lives, resulting in depression, anger, anxiety, irritability and behavioral “acting out” problems. Oftentimes instead of eye-movement or bi-lateral stimulation, I will use the “butterfly pat” in which they pat themselves on each shoulder, drum beats, sand tray, stories and puppets. EMDR works well also for test-anxiety with adolescents and teens.
HOW DO I MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH YOU? I invite you to telephone me to set up an appointment. I would love to answer any questions you have. Over the course of my career, I have explored various techniques and have discovered what it means to really help my clients. I am excited to offer this psychotherapy treatment. I have been deeply honored to have had the opportunity to help clients regain their resources, reduce their physical and emotional pain and discover their inner wisdom.