What is EMDR?

In grad school, knew I wanted to work with trauma so I looked for as many opportunities as I could find to learn about/study/read about trauma treatment.  That’s where I first heard about EMDR and learned about exposure treatments and hypnosis.

I took a brief training on exposure therapy and felt horrible.  I couldn’t imagine doing that to another human being. It would make sense to me in the treatment of phobias but not in the treatment of trauma.  (If it is has been helpful you, that’s awesome but I just couldn’t see myself asking another person to relive something traumatic over and over again until it didn’t hurt.)

Hypnosis seemed a bit like meds to me…. They could be helpful with symptoms but are they addressing then original problem?

Then there was EMDR.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).  It is empirically supported (meaning the research on it is more positive than negative and the results can be repeated by other people replicating the experiment), it does not require you to relive the trauma and the results seems to be lasting.  Unlike psych meds that have a short-term impact then let you down later, but we can talk about meds another time.

So how does it work?

When your brain is in fight, flight or freeze, your brain stores information in a different place.  Let’s call it the E (E = emergency) drive, we call everything else R (R =Regular) drive.  When you have things (events, beliefs, thoughts) saved in your E drive, they aren’t necessarily rational (though some are) and they can come out and cause problems whenever they want to…. And it is typically when you don’t want them to.

EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to move the item(s) stored in the E drive to the R drive.  The goal is not to forget or to remember things differently but simply to move the thought/event/belief out of the part of the brain where it can fight with your logic and reason (because it lives in your primitive brain that is responsible for all sorts of things like heart rate and body temperature) and simply resale it in a place where you can choose to engage it, or not.

Bilateral WHAT?!

Do you like music?  Have you ever noticed that listening to certain songs or types of music can help you relax or feel good?  Bilateral stimulation does something similar to the brain as music…  There are different ways to do it, but bilateral stimulation is about stimulating both hemispheres of the brain alternately.

Then what?

The best part to me, there is little chance that it will make things worse.  You don’t have to relive the awful stuff that happened to you and the worst case scenario is that it doesn’t help you.  I know that when you are looking for relief that is terrible but compared to other treatments that I felt would force everything to resurface, this felt soooo much better.

Of course it is difficult to sum up 30ish years of research on a particular topic but I think this hits a lot of the high notes and a lot of the questions I get initially about EMDR.  There is a ton of information about it available and I’m glad to answer more questions as best I can.

As always, I’m here.  If you are ready to live your best life, call me and let’s get started!

What is EMDR?