what is EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a type of therapy that allows people to heal after difficult life experiences, including loss, often at an accelerated rate in comparison to traditional therapy. Your brain knows what it needs to heal. The hard part is confronting the intrusive memories, thoughts, and emotions. But when a person does this in a calm body and with a trusted counselor, those intrusive memories, thoughts, and emotions lose their power and make room for growth and healing.
Trauma is stored in our bodies -- more specifically, in the nervous system, which is comprised of your brain, spinal cord, and a series of nerves branching out from the spinal cord that regulate every organ and function in your body. Anytime something happens that reminds us -- consciously or unconsciously -- of the experience, our memory network starts firing, and all of the thoughts, emotions, and body sensations come flooding back: Triggers! The goal of EMDR is to stop this from happening.
EMDR begins with learning and implementing calming techniques. Then we work together to identify the distressing thoughts or events that you would like to reprocess with EMDR. If you are grieving, you might choose to reprocess intrusive images, nightmares, and regrets related to the loss.
How It Works
The Eye Movement part of EMDR refers to moving one's eyes back and forth while focusing on the different aspects of a difficult event or thought. Since its discovery in the 1980s, researchers have since validated that the actual mechanism behind EMDR is stimulating both sides of the body, referred to as "bilateral stimulation;" in other words, even though "eye movement" is in the name, we know that any stimulation to either side of the body works just as well, including alternating sounds in either ear, or alternating taps or vibrations on either side of the body.
Just like in traditional exposure therapy, one major goal of EMDR is to help Desensitize you to the target experience, so that it bothers you less when you think about it. The desensitization that EMDR provides is not only emotional, but also physical. In order to heal from trauma, we not only need to increase our tolerance for its physical symptoms, but also to help the nervous system repair itself. As the nervous system heals, the intensity and vividness of difficult experiences wanes.
But it's the Reprocessing piece that distinguishes EMDR as a superior therapeutic approach. If you have ever felt like you understand intellectually that you are worthy, or can't be held responsible for something that happened to you, but still struggle to feel it in your heart, EMDR could be a game changer for you. Similar to what happens during REM sleep, bilateral stimulation allows the brain to let go of difficult events and file them away, so they become less accessible, or in other words, less likely to trigger your nervous system into panic. Reprocessing memories allows people to gain insight and for the meaning of the pain to transform into a sense of acceptance and peace.