Counseling Technique Highlight: EMDR
Do you ever feel like you keep reliving past trauma? Do painful memories play on repeat in your head? Do traumatic experiences cause you anxiety about what may be coming in the future? Trauma can occur during a range of experiences either to you or as secondary trauma as you care for a loved one. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can help.
A little bit about trauma and memory…
We know that when a person is under great distress, their brain cannot process information well. The filing and processing system can actually get really messed up. The brain gets “stuck” and files the memory of the experience in an unhelpful way that may feel as bad as going through it again when remembered. Memory includes images, sounds, smells, and the feelings that are all stuck. These memories have a lasting negative impact and can interfere with daily life, the way you see the world, and the way you connect with other people. The good news is that the brain is very adaptive and this type of therapy assists with the adaptive process.
EMDR therapy helps your mind create a new way of storing and processing traumatic memory and anxiety that is more helpful and less painful.
An important thing to know is that EMDR is different from talk therapy. EMDR focuses less on the actual event and more on the upsetting symptoms and feelings that are present as a result of the event. It helps decrease negative feelings associated with memories of traumatic experiences. Following treatment, a person typically no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings from the trauma. You still remember it but it isn’t as upsetting. You remember hard experiences in a less disturbing way. The “stuck” memories can process through in a more functional manner and then no longer have the same effect on you. Lots of people even leave EMDR therapy feeling fairly neutral about the memory.
EMDR can be used to treat:
- Painful memories
- Complicated grief or loss
This type of therapy includes a technique called bilateral stimulation. This means engaging in a stimulating activity that alternates between both the left and right sides of the brain, while focusing on the painful memory or trigger. Bilateral stimulation may be following a therapist’s hand with your eyes as it moves back and forth or listening to a sound that alternates from one ear to the other. A therapist might alternate tapping on your knees, or ask you to follow an object with your eyes back and forth. This is the part that re-processes in the brain, helping these stuck memories get activated so normal processing can resume.
Does this sound familiar at all? This is actually a similar process to the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle of sleep where information from the day is processed and sorted into proper storage. (Quick plug for regular good sleep-this is one of the many reasons why we need good sleep!) This is the significant difference in EMDR from talk therapy, as there is a physiological change that occurs. A sort of “rewiring” of the brain. Throughout EMDR therapy you will also learn positive ways of dealing with disturbing feelings and thoughts and ways of reinforcing and strengthening positive feelings and beliefs. All of this work will get you to a place where you can bring up the memories of the traumatic event without experiencing the negative thoughts and feelings.
Going through EMDR treatment, you can expect to connect to your trauma in a new way that decreases stress and increases positive self thoughts.
So, does EMDR really work? Yes! There is extensive research on this method and it has proven effective for the treatment of trauma. See up to date research here. In EMDR therapy, the brain moves towards healing just like our bodies do when they are physically injured. If you cut your foot, your body works to heal itself. The brain does the same thing, and EMDR helps remove the obstacles so that it can heal.
And, there are some really great advantages of EMDR!
- You can sometimes achieve the same goals within fewer sessions than other types of therapy.
- It’s a more active approach to healing.
- It can be effective when talk therapy has not been successful.
- Since some memories get “stuck” in the brain it may not be useful to simply talk about them.
- You don’t have to go into major detail about your trauma-no need to relive it again!
If you are struggling with anxiety or dealing with traumatic experiences and would like additional support or if you have interest in learning more about EMDR, please contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where I’ll try to get an idea of what you are dealing with and how I can help. We will get a good sense of each other and can decide if I’m the best fit for you. Together we will make a plan for the next steps.