EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) was developed in the 1990’s by Francine Shapiro. It is a form of therapy used to treat emotional injuries and reduce negative symptoms that emerge from distressing life experiences. Given the strong body of evidence demonstrating the therapeutic efficacy of EMDR, it has been recognized by organizations like the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization as a valuable tool to treat PTSD and other negative, persistent mental conditions.
Read More… EMDR integrates principles from the physical body’s healing abilities and applies them to healing the mind. It is aimed at reworking maladaptive neural pathways in the brain by using bilateral stimulation to tap into our higher order information processing systems to change the way our brains react to incoming stimuli. Through this rewiring process, we can heal the brain and form adaptive ways of responding to our environments.
How does it work?
Human beings are functional units governed by many life systems that, under ideal circumstances, work together in perfect harmony. EMDR takes the basic assumption that our mental and physical systems are maintained and regulated by similar processes and asserts that there are similarities between how we heal physically and how we can heal mentally. Therefore, EMDR mirrors the healing forces that are active in healing our physical wounds and applies them to healing emotional injury. Classical therapeutic approaches assume that psychological traumas take a long time to heal. EMDR, however, builds on the presumption that, given the right conditions, our emotional body can heal just as fast as our physical body, provided the cause of injury has been removed. When we cut our hand, for instance, our body immediately responds and starts closing the wound. If we continue re-injuring the same spot, the healing process is interrupted, and we may experience more severe pain levels. When the irritant or cause of injury has been removed, however, our body naturally continues the healing process and restores us to full health. When dealing with emotional injuries, the healing process is quite similar. EMDR therapy works by removing the irritant from our emotional system, which allows our emotional intelligence to kick in and our coping strategies to be unleashed. Consequently, equilibrium is restored, which returns our bodies to a state of harmonious functioning which naturally allows healing to take place.
What can you expect in a session?
Fundamentally speaking, the stages of EMDR therapy consist of the following:
- Establishment and/or reinforcement of a safe place
- Assessment of the problem
- Recall of memories associated with the traumatic event
- Tracking the therapist’s hand moving back and forth in one’s field of vision (or other forms of bilateral stimulation)
- Revisiting the safe place before closing the session
The biological mechanisms at play during bilateral stimulation are associated with the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep stage, which helps us process and release painful feelings and negative emotions associated with traumatic memories. In a session, a therapist will guide us through bilateral sensory stimulation. Bilateral stimulation simply means that we are crossing the midline of our bodies which runs vertically from the crown of our head to the feet. For instance, this could be following our therapist’s finger with our gaze as they move it horizontally across our field of vision. Bilateral stimulation will occur simultaneously as we recollect and/or retell a traumatizing event, which allows the memory to be processed by higher order brain structures. This level of processing results in the transformation of the internal meaning ascribed to those negative feelings. As such, the insights and relief gained from an EMDR session are the product of your own inner processing; not that induced by the intervention of a therapist, as in conventional talk therapy. The empowerment that we can gain from EMDR sessions is the result of the brain’s natural healing power when a memory, an emotion, or a feeling is processed by the two hemispheres and stored adequately.
How many sessions are needed?
EMDR is a powerful tool in reprogramming our emotional and behavioral reaction patterns. Brain imaging technology shows significant results after only one 90-minute session for clients suffering from simple PTSD (PTSD diagnosis following a single traumatic incident). The EMDR technique is also effective with complex PTSD: A research study conducted with combat veterans showed that 77% of clients were free of PTSD after 12 sessions.
How can EMDR help you?
Severe trauma is not the only field where EMDR can be helpful. Behind most common psychological issues is an emotional injury suffered a long time ago. We tend to carry this emotional baggage with us through life and are impacted by this type of injury into adulthood. This may unknowingly be affecting our emotional well-being in a profound way. EMDR can help free us from such emotional burdens. This gives way to better our self-esteem, releasing unhealthy patterns of behavior, and/or allowing us to rise beyond previous social limitations. EMDR is even effective when the origin of our psychological condition is an emotional trauma suffered in our childhood. When such trauma is carried into adulthood it will continue to affect our life and create negative scenarios and attract interpersonal failures.
EMDR integrates principles from the physical body’s healing abilities and applies them to healing the mind. It is aimed at reworking maladaptive neural pathways in the brain by using bilateral stimulation to tap into our higher order information processing systems and change the way our brains react to incoming stimuli. Through this rewiring process, we can heal the brain and adapt our biological thinking processes.
Woman Follows Therapist’s Finger with Her Gaze. From “Therapy at Tiffany’s”, https://therapyattiffanys.com/emdr-therapy/
Reference: EMDR Institute, Inc. (July 6, 2019). What is EMDR? Retrieved from https://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/