Eye Movement Desensitzation and Reprocessing is an integrated psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for treating trauma. It has an 8 phase treatment protocol that occurs over the span of several sessions. It is used on its own or in conjunction with other forms of therapy including talk therapy and mindful practices. Below is a brief explanation of EMDR. For further information please refer to the website for EMDR International Association.
The human body has a beautiful and natural way to heal itself, and it moves towards this tendency on its own. The mind is the same way, when there is an injury or trauma, the mind moves towards healing. However, if we get a cut, and there is dirt or bacteria in there, the cut may not heal, it may become infected. The healing is blocked. The same can occur in the mind, the natural healing process can be blocked.
When we experience trauma (big or small) it is stored in our brains not just in verbal or visual memory, but is sounds, smells, bodily sensations, and more. When the healing process is blocked our mind cannot fully heal from the trauma, we cannot fully process it and therefore, are vulnerable to be triggered by similar sites, sounds, bodily sensations etc… We are also more likely to symbolically recreate this trauma in our lives as our mind attempts to solve it and move past the block. Many, many people live with fear, anxiety, phobias, depression, substance use, and more at the hands of blocked trauma.
It is important to say here that trauma isn’t just big things like war, rape, natural disasters, etc… It can be smaller (although they may not feel small) things such as experiencing rejection from parents or peers, being shamed by a teacher, going through a divorce or major life transition, and much more. Many of my clients are resistant to the word “trauma”, I’m ok with that as long as they don’t minimize the impact of the incident on themselves and their life. Whatever you choose to call it, your experience is important, honor it.
EMDR was first discovered on a whim during a walk through a park as founder, Francine Shapiro noticed that emotionally distressing incidents were losing their emotional charge after rapid eye movement. Through multiple published studies Shapiro realized that traumatic or emotionally upsetting memories could be neutralized (eliminated of their emotional charge) through bilateral stimulation. Originally, Shapiro used two fingers, moved back and forth across the field of vision as bilateral stimulation. Currently, there are a variety of other means including hands tapping the client’s outer thigh, and machines that provide sensation in handheld “tappers”.
Many studies have shown that bilateral stimulation, combined with therapist prompts and guidance can rid even the most activating traumas of their emotional charge. The incident remains in memory, but no longer stirs up negative feelings and sensations. This effect has been replicated in numerous published studies. Although the exact mechanism is not entirely clear, it appears that the bilateral stimulation unblocks the channels and allows the memory to process to completion. The amazing part is that this process is much faster than regular talk therapy; Shapiro sites an average of 4.5 hours in single trauma incidents (Shapiro, F., Eye Movement Desensitization and Processing (EMDR) Therapy, Third Edition).
EMDR is also effective for anxiety, phobias, depression, and more.
I use an Attachment Focused EMDR protocol from the Parnell Institute. This protocol is client centered, using specific focus on client’s needs, pace, words, and desires in session. In addition, we pay special attention to the attachments in the client’s present life and history. This is a more gentle and person centered form of the traditional EMDR practice. For more information please visit The Parnell Institute website.