EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
How small movements can bring about big changes.
My personal experience with EMDR:
When I first heard about EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), I thought it sounded really kooky and not for me! I’m a psychotherapist, usually open to most any type of therapy, a little kooky or not; but come on now, moving my eyes back and forth would actually heal my abuse history?? I didn’t believe it!!
Still, I gathered some courage and went to a session. That one session changed my life! It amazed me how quickly I went from feeling a ten in terms of emotional pain and anxiety related to a past trauma, all the way down to a one. What was even more impressive… the distress level of one was permanent.
I had experienced many years of every kind of therapy in order to heal from an abusive childhood, nothing was as quick, effective or as fundamentally life changing as EMDR.
I now use EMDR extensively in my counseling practice, and have witnessed hundreds of people healing from trauma and finding the inner peace we all seek.
What is EMDR?
EMDR is an integrative process that was developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. in 1987. Many thousands of psychotherapists and counselors have been trained in EMDR since then and are very pleased with the clinical results. There are over 70,000 such clinicians worldwide and growing.
EMDR is a process that promotes the integration of traumatic experiences into our sense of well-being. When traumatic experiences have not been fully cleared and completed, the present is filled with negative thoughts, emotions and physical sensations that range from annoying to debilitating. Our ability to effectively deal with present life challenges is handicapped until this traumatic material is sufficiently resolved. The traumatic symptoms are often referred to as PTSD (POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER). Symptoms include: trouble sleeping, nightmares, flashbacks, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, unexplained physical pain, addictive behaviors, and more.
During an EMDR treatment, the client is asked to recall a traumatic event that ties in with their present time distress and to focus on the related thoughts, feelings and body sensations connected with the trauma, while simultaneously doing eye movements OR receiving knee taps as facilitated by the counselor. The eye movements or taps are designed to connect the left and right brain hemispheres, so that how a client logically thinks about the traumatic event and how they feel about it are finally merged into the rational.
For instance, most sexual abuse survivors logically think that the abuse suffered was not their fault and that they are innocent and worthy of love. However, in the emotional, irrational part of the brain, just the opposite is true. They often feel like it is their fault and that they are dirty, bad and unlovable, because of what happened to them. This results in chronic feelings of inadequacy and shame that contaminates their current relationship with self and others. With EMDR, the survivor of abuse really gets it throughout their physical and emotional body that they are guiltless and lovable. The cessation of physical pain often accompanies this healing as well. Breathing becomes deeper and easier.
Why EMDR works has to do with REM, which stands for rapid eye movement. Rapid eye movement occurs naturally during the phase of sleep called REM, which is when both brain hemispheres are processing through the days’ events and the logical side of the brain and the emotional side of the brain are trading information, which results in feeling clearer and more resolved by morning. Lots of people are never able to get to REM sleep due to trauma or significant stress and, therefore, awaken still feeling anxious and tired. They toss and turn, have nightmares and don’t obtain restful sleep. EMDR is like taking a person to REM while they are awake. The eye movements or taps stimulate the two hemispheres to process information to resolve while the person is awake and with their conscious input.
After receiving EMDR, clients report that they are sleeping for the first time in years, that they feel strangely calm even in stressful situations and are finally ready to give up that nasty habit-i.e., smoking, overeating, etc. EMDR is also useful in helping clients have fewer cravings and less compulsivity, when they do choose to release an addiction.
Recommended reading regarding EMDR is EMDR, the breakthrough eye movement therapy for overcoming anxiety, stress, and trauma by Francine Shapiro, ©1997. Or more information can be found at emdr.com.