EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) uses bilateral stimulation to activate our higher order information processing systems. This not only changes how our brains react to incoming stimuli, but also how our brain's process and store memories. Through this rewiring process, we can heal the brain and overcome emotional injuries. *Appear after clicking "Read More"* EMDR was developed in the 1990's by Francine Shapiro. It's 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 persistent mental disorders.
How does it work?
EMDR posits that how we heal physically and mentally rely on similar processes. Thus, EMDR applies the forces which heal our physical wounds to healing emotional injuries. EMDR asserts that when the cause of emotional injury has been removed, our emotional body can heal just as fast as our physical body. Consider this: if we cut our hand, our body immediately responds and begins closing the wound. If we continue re-injuring the same spot, the healing process is interrupted, and we may experience more severe pain. When the irritant is removed, however, our body continues the healing process and restores us to full health. When dealing with emotional injuries, the healing process is quite similar. Whenever we call up a traumatic memory, it continues to elicit the same visceral reaction in our mind, preventing us from healing. EMDR removes the irritant (traumatic memories) from our emotional system. By stimulating both hemispheres of the brain, EMDR enables us to store traumatic memories differently so that they're perceived as neutral rather than triggering. Consequently, equilibrium is restored to a state of harmonious functioning which naturally allows for growth.
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
- Tracking the therapist's hand moving back and forth in one's field of vision (or other forms of bilateral stimulation)
- Recall of memories associated with the traumatic event
- Revisiting one's safe place before closing the session
The biological mechanisms at play during bilateral stimulation are associated with the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep stage. During REM sleep, our eyes move rapidly from right to left, inducing bilateral stimulation and evoking activation in both brain hemispheres. Bilateral stimulation simply means that we're crossing the midline of our bodies which runs vertically from the crown of our head to the feet. Bilateral stimulation can be invoked by following our therapist's finger with our gaze as they move it horizontally across our field of vision. In an EMDR session, bilateral stimulation occurs simultaneously as we recollect and/or retell a traumatizing event. This allows the memory to be processed by higher order brain structures. This level of processing transforms the emotional and cognitive meaning ascribed to those events, feelings, and memories. 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. 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 healthfully.
How many sessions are needed?
EMDR is a powerful tool for reprogramming our emotional and behavioural 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 long ago. We tend to carry this emotional baggage with us through life and are impacted by it in 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 improved self-esteem, the release of unhealthy patterns of behaviour, and/or the freedom to rise beyond previous limitations.
EMDR integrates principles from the physical body's healing abilities and applies them to healing emotional injuries. It's 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/