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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Weigert

What is EMDR and How Can it Help Me?

When we experience something distressing or traumatic, our brain becomes overwhelmed with the event and we are unable to utilize our natural coping mechanisms. This results in our brain storing those memories in an unhealthy way and the memory becomes “frozen” in a way that we are unable to process the trauma. When our brain does not process a traumatic event, we are left with residual thoughts, feelings and emotions that can then be triggered by similar events that happen later in our lives. Although the past trauma may have happened years ago, our brain and body does not forget the fear, sadness, anger, or pain that was felt during that trauma. This cycle will continue every time a traumatic event is experienced until the original trauma is reprocessed and stored appropriately in the brain.

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy was created based on the idea that our brains have the ability to heal themselves following a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation, similar to REM sleep, to help the brain reprocess those traumatic or disturbing experiences. These eye movements are made by simply following your therapist’s fingers back and forth across a visual field or sometimes by utilizing tactile buzzers or a light bar. With these repeated sets of eye movements, the goal is for the memory to become less intense and less painful as well as to decrease the symptoms of the trauma (ie. anxiety, fear, depression, anger, etc).

EMDR can be effective in treating:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Physical, sexual and emotional abuse

  • Anxiety

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

  • Grief

  • Phobias

  • Addictions

  • Low self-esteem

  • Physical pain, phantom pain, and other medical conditions

  • Eating Disorders

Common questions about EMDR:

Is EMDR is a form of hypnosis?

EMDR differs from hypnosis in that during an EMDR session you remain in control, alert and wide awake throughout the process. You are able to stop the processing at any time and you are encouraged to be present and aware of what you are thinking and feeling throughout the session.

How long has EMDR been around?

EMDR has been around for more than 25 years and was developed by Francine Shapiro in 1987. The first research studies on EMDR therapy started in 1989 and it was after these studies that people quickly discovered that EMDR was going to be the up and coming treatment for PTSD. It has since evolved in to a treatment that is used to treat many mental health and physical conditions.

Will EMDR work in one session?

EMDR can be a very effective, short-term treatment in many cases. However, it can also be necessary to utilize EMDR for an extended period of time depending on the person and the type of trauma. No one person is going to respond to EMDR in the same way so it is important to be open minded about the length of time that you may need to

How can EMDR help me?

EMDR can help to reprocess the disturbing or painful memories that we are left with following a traumatic experience. While EMDR will not get rid of the memory, it can assist in unblocking the memory networks in the brain so that you can being the healing process. Through healing, you can begin to develop healthier ways of dealing with the thoughts, feelings and emotions that have come as a result of the trauma. You can also work with your therapist to create future templates for how to handle distressing or uncomfortable situations that may arise in the future.

Everyone will experience something traumatic or disturbing at some point and it is important to recognize when that trauma is many areas of your life. EMDR can help to reprocess those memories so that you brain stores them in a healthier way and can greatly reduce the anxiety, depression, anger, fear, or other emotions that you may be feeling as a result of the trauma. Many research studies have been conducted and have concluded that EMDR is an effective treatment method when utilized by a trained EMDR therapist. It is important that you take the steps necessary to regain control of your life so that you do not allow your trauma to be the thing that defines you.

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