What is EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a specific form of psychotherapy that allows people to heal from difficult symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. When an individual experiences a difficult or stressful life event, intense emotions can surface. These intense emotions can lead to the development of negative coping tools to numb, mask or block the disturbing memories or thoughts. EMDR can accelerate therapy by resolving the impact of your past distressing events and allowing you to live more fully in the present. EMDR utilizes bilateral stimulation to activate both right and left hemispheres of the brain through eye movements, tapping, tones, or buzzers. It is believed that the engagement of both hemispheres of the brain allows for the brain to process and incorporate information, similar to that of Rapid Eye Movement (REM). For more information please continue reading below and visit emdr.com or emdria.org.
What kind of problems can EMDR treat?
Scientific research has established EMDR as effective for post traumatic stress. However, clinicians also have reported success using EMDR in treatment of the following conditions:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Sexual, Physical and/or Verbal abuse
- Neglect and Abandonment
- Eating Disorders
- Medical Trauma
- Health Anxiety
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Post-Partum Anxiety
- Post-Partum Depression
- Birth Trauma
- Complicated grief
- Disturbing memories
- Pain Disorders
- Performance anxiety
- Stress reduction
- Panic attacks
- Body Dysmorphic Disorders
- Personality Disorders
- Dissociative Disorders
Trauma is stored in the body and brain:
Everyone experiences some type of distressing event in their lifetime, however not all are affected by them. I believe traumatic experiences exist on a spectrum ranging from ‘little t’ trauma to ‘BIG T’ trauma. A ‘little t’ trauma can be innocuous, such as falling of a bike or being bitten by a dog. A ‘BIG T’ trauma is often much more complex, for example: witnessing a death, natural disaster, chronic bullying, or sexual abuse. The deciding factor of whether an individual will experience symptoms is due to the way the body and the brain respond during the event coupled with protective factors.
When trauma, disturbing events, or crisis occur, the brain and body engage in a primitive fight, flight or freeze response. This causes the Amygdala (the alarm center of the brain) to trigger a series of reactions in the body preventing us from fully processing the event. When trauma is unprocessed or stuck, we hold onto it in our mind and body. Our bodies remember and relive trauma when we become dysregulated or ‘triggered’ in a survival response. Similar sounds, sights, environments, smells, tastes, touch, interactions, or anniversary of the event can easily trigger these negative memory networks. They surface as flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance, irritability, hyper-vigilance, insomnia, depression, anxiety, panic, phobias, and many other agitating symptoms. When trauma is triggered we relive our past trauma in the present and do not function well in our lives. Many individuals living with untreated trauma numb the emotional pain and disturbance as a learned survival skill, wether conscious or unconscious. Numbing often presents as addiction, disordered eating behavior, control, co-depedency, self-harm, risk taking, acting out, Obsessive-Compulsive behavior just to name a few.
The goal of EMDR and most trauma work is to engage old memory networks coupled with dual attention in the body to process and release the blocked material. This allows the brain to process and store memories appropriately, while the body releases physical stress and tension. Once old memory networks are process new narratives can replace them, leaving individuals with a greater sense of self, quality of life, and relief of symptoms. Depending on the severity and duration of the trauma, EMDR can be a brief, long lasting, and highly effective treatment for many individuals.
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