One of the main methodologies I use to help people heal their trauma is called EMDR. I am trained in other mind-body trauma healing too but I’ll save those for another blog. EMDR is my main squeeze, because it’s the most reliably effective for me in my practice. I’m not saying it’s a magic bullet, but when it works it borders on the miraculous! I’m also not saying that other methods aren’t as valuable, it’s just MY personal favorite.
I wanted to spend a blog explaining what this method really is and how it works. Here’s a link to the official EMDR website, so you can read how they describe it there. It’s less chatty and more professional, so if you’re looking for that, their article may be a better fit for you.What does EMDR stand for?
It actually stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing” but this is a bit of a misnomer. Even the founder, discoverer of this technique, Francine Shapiro said that she would have named it differently if she had it to do over again. Why? Because actual eye movements are not required. What is required is “bilateral stimulation” which just means stimulating both sides of the body alternately. Sometimes I wave my fingers in front of client’s eyes and have them look back and forth, but sometimes I will tap on their knees or have them tap back and forth on their arms or heart (especially if we are meeting virtually which I have been the entire pandemic!)
How do we actually DO EMDR?
First we have to find our target memory.
Sometimes this is super easy.
For example, if you get anxious while driving your car and the anxiety started right after you were in a car accident, it’s pretty easy to figure out that the target memory is that car accident.
Incidentally, if you have simple trauma where it’s very clear, like in this example, that trauma can usually process in a session or two, so please don’t wait to get help! I call these “low hanging fruit” trauma. Simple fears, injuries, accidents, etc. all respond so quickly to EMDR that I wish everyone would do it! It could save the world so much suffering!
Most of the time, as you can imagine, the target is harder to find.
If you have problems with confidence or generalized anxiety or many layers of issues going on, (as most of us do), the target memories can be buried deep. They can also seem completely unrelated. I have ways of helping you to find the memory (or group of memories) that are the root cause of whatever symptom you are having. You might be relieved to learn that it’s my job, not yours to find the memories. It’s hard to find targets yourself, even for me. It’s not an intellectual exercise of thinking about it. It’s a process of feeling it in your body and doing a little meditation that allows the memory to emerge.
Once we have the memory, then I ask a series of simple questions designed to light up different parts of your brain.
The questions are a bit weird and take a little getting used to because we are not used to thinking of our memories in such a concrete and truncated way. One of the questions, for example is to capture the memory in a snapshot. Another question asks you to identify which underlying belief matches or resonates with that image the most. In this way, we not only identify which memory is being activated but also what meaning about yourself you have falsely linked to this memory. All trauma memories are traumatic because we believe the event MEANS something about us. This is another reason why trauma so deeply effects our lives. This is also why it’s almost impossible to simply “change our beliefs” about ourselves just by thinking differently. Our traumatized brain is our unconscious mind and it is not rational. This series of questions becomes the “Target.”
Once we have the “Target” then we start the eye movements or “bilateral stimulation.”
This is also where it gets really weird! But it’s so amazing to watch as your disturbing memory goes from really upsetting to much less upsetting over the course of an hour.
No one really knows why this works, but by now there are so many studies that prove it’s effectiveness that even the Department of Defense, The American Psychiatric Association, and other stodgy, “non woo woo” organizations recognize it as a valid form of treatment for PTSD.
Side note: It’s effective treatment for ALL issues, not just what we would consider PTSD. It’s a general form of psychotherapy used for everything from depression to anxiety to addiction to performance enhancement! I’ve used it to improve relationships, business outcomes and even procrastination! I also use it to build resilience and greater strength in my clients (and myself).
So why does EMDR work?
I think of the “bilateral stimulation” as simulating REM sleep. REM sleep is where we usually process what happens to us during the day. When events ‘Get stuck”(see this blog to find out why) REM sleep isn’t enough. It’s kind of like when we eat a big meal and our digestive system “gets stuck.” We need the help of a laxative to get things moving again. EMDR is like taking a laxative for your neural networks!
The take home here is that EMDR stimulates a natural process. It’s a way to get your natural systems working again, stimulating our body’s own healing mechanisms. It’s not like a surgery where we are removing something or introducing something foreign to the system.
So in a nutshell that is how EMDR works and how it is done. It is a protocol that helps “re-file” stuck memories. Traumatic memories are “traumatic” or disturbing because they get mis-filed in the emotional center of our brain. The EMDR protocol helps move these memories from the emotional center into the prefrontal cortex or “adult brain.” When memories are properly filed, they no longer cause strong, confusing, emotional reactions.
How do people feel after?
Amazing!!! It’s like a burden has been lifted! People generally describe it as “I feel more free!” Trauma makes you feel stuck and unable to move forward. Healing that trauma gets you unstuck and moving forward again…kinda like that laxative! Imagine how you feel after you’ve recovered from an illness: that “fresh start” feeling of seeing life anew. This is what it feels like to clear a trauma!
Sound interesting?? Sound like what you need in your life right now? Don’t hesitate to reach out! Life is fleeting after all, like the rainbow! You don’t wanna be stuck and blocked for your “one wild and precious life” do ya?? (Quote from Mary Oliver)
It’s the ultimate in Spring Cleaning for your MIND!!
|Nancy Shah, Psy.D. – 125 North Acacia, Suite 111, Solana Beach, CA 92075, United States
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