EMDR & Trauma
What is EMDR?
Developed in the 1980s by psychologist Francine Shapiro, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma — as well as anxiety, phobias, grief, stress, OCD, and many other common issues. Today, the World Health Organization, the American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the Departments of Defense and of Veterans Affairs have endorsed EMDR, deeming it an effective therapy for PTSD.
Is EMDR Right for Me?
EMDR can help relieve the symptoms of many distressing situations, including: PTSD, depression and anxiety, negative body image, grief, addictions, phobias, accidents and assaults, childhood abuse, difficulty making decisions, procrastination, creative blocks, performance anxiety, and more.
What Happens During a Session?
In a typical EMDR session, you will begin with a troubling memory and/or negative self-belief while I provide what is called bilateral stimulation. This is done with handheld pulsers that gently vibrate from right to left, or with headphones that emit a soft right-left tone. (Here’s what the device looks like).
This is not hypnosis, you do not lose consciousness, and you are always in control of the process. This is not about reliving a painful experience. You don’t even have to talk in depth during the therapy.
Relief after an EMDR session can be immediate. For many issues, a typical course of treatment is somewhere between 6 and 12 sessions. For people with a history of multiple painful experiences or complex PTSD, however, more EMDR sessions may be needed.
How Does EMDR Work?
During times of trauma and stress, the human brain does not process information the way it usually does. The upsetting event can become “frozen” in your neurocircuitry, seeming to repeat throughout time, negatively impacting your experience of the world, yourself, and other people.
EMDR International explains: “EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.”
Listen here to renowned trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk talk about EMDR — and the relationship between trauma and the body.
Journalist Alix Strauss writes about her experience in Harper’s Bazaar: “For me, the biggest shift happened after my fourth EMDR session. As I walked home, a floating, out-of-body sensation washed over me. For the next two days, I was exhausted and napped for several hours each day. And then something happened. The next day, as I stood in the shower, I realized that I didn’t hurt as I had before. I can’t explain how or why, but it felt as if my brain had been rebalanced. As if a fever had broken.”
Due to its effectiveness, brevity, and ease of use, EMDR is being used to help distressed people cross-culturally around the world. In this video, Rolf Carriere explains the global use of EMDR and the epidemic of “Big T” and “Small T” trauma: