EMDR : A Powerful Approach in the Treatment of Trauma
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an psychotherapeutic approach based on the idea that negative thoughts, body sensations, feelings and behaviors are often the result of unprocessed, traumatic memories that are stored improperly in the body. Treatment involves standardized procedures where the therapist guides the client to focus on troubling images or memories, thoughts, emotions and body sensations while using induced movements of the eyes, audio tones or other bilateral stimulation. Accessing and processing of traumatic material in this way accelerates movement through the healing process.
How it is used EMDR is used to treat troubling symptoms such as severe trauma and PTSD, anxiety, depression, guilt, problematic anger and grief. Post traumatic stress reactions such as disturbing and intrusive thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks can be effectively overcome with the use of EMDR and can be extremely helpful for abuse and trauma from childhood or adulthood, disasters, car crashes and violent crimes. It can also be used to enhance emotional resources such as confidence and self-esteem.
A typical session EMDR Therapy is different for everyone, because the healing process is guided from within. Sometimes past issues or memories come up, which are related to the current concern. A painful memory may bring up unpleasant emotions or body sensations, but this is normal and generally passes within a few minutes, as long as the EMDR processing is not stopped. The upsetting emotion or memory usually seems to fade into the past and lose its power.
Bringing up disturbing memories When distressing memories are avoided, they keep their disturbing power. However, a flashback (I refer to flashbacks as memories that are "touched and awakened") can feel as upsetting and overwhelming as if the memory was happening in the present. During an EMDR session you face the memory in a safe setting, so that you do not feel overwhelmed while the brain processes the traumatic information and stores it more adaptively to fit with the current life situation. The aim is to reduce distress and strengthen more positive, functional beliefs in relation to the traumatic events and experience. After a session, people usually say that the distressing event FEELS like a memory, no longer causing one to feel upset...that now seems "over and in the past". You are in control It is hard to predict what kinds of thoughts, feelings, or memories might come up during an EMDR processing session. It depends upon each individual's nervous system. The client is always in charge of whether to continue or stop, and decides how much to tell the therapist about the experience. The therapist serves as a guide to help the client stay on track and get the most out of the session, and will encourage the client to continue through difficult parts.
Preparing for the first EMDR processing session Make sure that if you are a contact lens wearer, that you either wear glasses to the session, or be prepared to remove them, as the eye movements can cause the eyes to dry and become uncomfortable. It is also recommended that you try to plan to have some time after the session to relax and ideally take a nap. This seems to help many people enhance the processing that took place during the session, and often it is reported that the sleep is very deep and relaxing.
After the session The client may continue to process the material for days or even weeks after the session, perhaps having new insights, vivid dreams, strong feelings, or memory recall. This may feel confusing, but it is just a continuation of the healing process, and should simply be reported to the therapist at the next session. (If, however, you become concerned or depressed, you should call your therapist immediately.) When the distressing symptoms are eliminated, the client can work with the therapist on developing new skills and ways of coping.
It is very important that the therapist be formally trained in EMDR. Otherwise, there is a risk that EMDR processing would be incomplete, ineffective, or even harmful.
Mary Kay Neumann received her Level II EMDR Training in 1994, and has been certified by the EMDR Institute. You may contact her at 608.255.4747.