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What is EMDR? | Trauma Therapy Questions ... Answered by a Trauma Counselor

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing or EMDR is a treatment that enables people to heal from emotional distress that results from disturbing life experiences. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy. It is a body-mind integrated therapy that has been proven to be highly effective for those who have experienced trauma. EMDR therapy is founded on the basis that trauma interferes with our brain’s processing. The theoretical basis for EMDR is that during trauma our brain processes and stores memories incorrectly.This incorrect storage can lead to past memories feeling very present. Related or unrelated stimuli in the present can lead to clients reacting as they did at the time of trauma. The brain experiences the current, related event as if it were the past disturbing event.

What is bilateral stimulation?

In short, this technique activates both sides of the brain with visual, auditory or tactile inputs. Bilateral stimulation can happen in one of many ways. We could ask you to follow our fingers with your eyes. This requires us to move two fingers 2 or 3 feet in front of your face and you simply think about the traumatic memory. This uses your right and left brain together to properly process the traumatic memory. For many, this method is a bit intimidating, so there are other ways to use bilateral stimulation. We could have you follow a bar that lights up from left to right as you reprocess or close your eyes and hold clickers that buzz gently in your right hand and then in your left.

That seems a little strange. How will that help me get rid of my traumatic memories?

EMDR relieves the symptoms of trauma by changing the way traumatic memories are stored. Our experiences create memory networks that are stored in our minds and bodies. These memory networks dictate how we experience the world in the present. They are the basis of our beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions. Intense or traumatic events tend to be stored in the memory without a sense of time. This incorrect storage can lead to feeling as if the past traumatic event is about to happen again at any moment or is currently happening in the present. This can occur in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks. EMDR therapy helps to access the memory networks in order to move them from a place of emotional activation to a more logical, rational place in the brain. EMDR changes the way traumatic memories are stored so that you can know and feel that the traumatic event is in the past and that you are safe in the present. Through EMDR therapy, the triggers of the present no longer have the same charge. This will allow you to react to what is happening now instead of having an overreaction from a past traumatic memory.

What does a typical EMDR session look like?

EMDR begins over several sessions before you actually begin the work of reprocessing the traumatic event . The first session would be like any first session at JCAC. We ask questions about what you are experiencing and how we can help. The next couple of sessions will involve preparation. In these sessions, we make sure that you have proper coping skills put into place to help you when you begin to reprocess the traumatic memories. We call this raising your window of tolerance.

Once you are ready, reprocessing encompasses the bulk of the EMDR work. You will be asked some basic questions about the traumatic event. Then we use bilateral stimulation to reprocess the memory. We do bilateral stimulation for about 30 seconds. Then we ask you to stop and tell us what you noticed. You share the overall gist of what you thought about. We briefly talk about what you notice and how that relates to the trauma. Then we ask you to keep noticing things. After several rounds of the bilateral stimulation, you will suddenly realize that you start to feel differently about the traumatic memory. At the end of each reprocessing session, we ask you to tell us what the most important thing was that you learned about yourself. Then, if you are ready the next week, we pick up where we left off. This can continue for as many sessions as needed until you feel that the memories are not causing a problem for you anymore.

Lastly, in the next session, we will re- evaluate the process that you have made, monitor what effect the treatment is having, and what modifications or resources are needed. We may need to reprocess something else that has been uncovered in the process or do we need to slow down and work on raising your window of tolerance. The main thing to remember is that therapy of any kind always goes at your pace. As counselors, we do not have an agenda or a timeline for treatment, but will move along as you are ready.

Is EMDR the same as hypnosis?

EMDR is different from hypnosis in that the client is never brought into a trance- like state. The client is in control and can stop at any time in the process. Second, therapists often use hypnosis to help a patient develop a single, highly focused state of receptivity. Usually this is a positive cognition to help a client stop smoking, lose weight, etc.In contrast, with EMDR attempts are made to maintain focus on both positive and negative currently held self-referencing beliefs, as well as the emotional arousal brought about by imaging the worst part of a disturbing memory. EMDR helps the client to explore the negative memory in order to unlock the negative beliefs that are holding them hostage in the present and to replace them with the positive truth about who they are now. Lastly, hypnotism can decrease in their generalized reality orientation. It can sometimes rely on creating a fantasy to help a client. EMDR relies on grounding the client by referencing current feelings and body sensations to prevent the client from drifting away from reality. Specific encouragement is made towards rejecting previously irrational or self-blaming beliefs in favor of a newly reframed positive belief.

Is there someone that I could talk to about EMDR before I actually do it?

Ginny Vose and Alex Murphy counselors at Johns Creek and Alpharetta Counseling, and are both trained in EMDR and would be happy to set up a 15 minute free phone consultation to answer any questions that you may have about EMDR. You can call our JCAC intake line to set up a time to chat with them. 404-834-2363

EMDR is an 8 phase process that falls within the 3 step process that is used to treat trauma. Phase 1 trauma work focuses on giving you the tools needed to deal with the anxiety and the panic attacks and negative emotions surrounding the trauma. We raise your window of tolerance, so that when you are ready to reprocess in phase 2 trauma work, you have the tools necessary to handle it successfully. When working with trauma, a therapist always goes at the client’s pace.