Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It sounds complicated and confusing to most people when I tell them what EMDR stands for.
Most often, people give puzzled looks as they try to figure out what it is and what it does. The fact is that this secret weapon is not so secret, complicated or confusing once one understands what it is and, more importantly, how it can help.
EMDR was developed in 1987. It is a psychotherapeutic
intervention and was originally developed to treat people
who had experienced a traumatic event. According to the
EMDR Institute, studies have found that up to 90 percent
of people who experienced a single traumatic event had no
post-traumatic stress symptoms after three sessions
lasting 90 minutes. Several other studies have found
EMDR can be an extremely effective and efficient way to treat trauma and other issues that people bring to therapy wanting to resolve. It can be utilized to treat phobias, anxiety and depression, and it's a great way to help people build confidence and enhance performance. There are so many great aspects of EMDR — including that it can often take less time than other forms of therapy and the person being treated does not have to rehash all the details of a traumatic event or issue in order for it to be effective. But the thing that is most notable about EMDR is that it helps the brain to tap into its own ability to self-heal.
“It is the most effective thing I have ever done in my life, and I have done every kind of therapy. It has cleared away life blocks that have kept me from being who I really am and having the life I want," said one client who is currently participating in EMDR. "EMDR has given me hope that I can change, and I have changed. Everyone who knows me notices how effective this therapy is.”
The brain was designed from the beginning to be self- healing. When we experience a normal, non-disturbing event, the brain knows what to do with that information. It takes our experience and memory of an event — including thoughts, emotions and body sensations — and moves them through the brain, sorts through the information, organizes it in a way that makes sense, and files it away.
However, when a person experiences a traumatic or anxiety- provoking event, the brain does not always know how to organize the information. Memories can become fragmented and not fully processed, which means they are stored in the wrong place in the brain.
What this means is that people who have been through a traumatic event can experience very intense and uncomfortable emotions, body sensations and thoughts when they recall the incident or have another experience that reminds them of the incident.
Think of the brain like a network of rivers and streams. Information from experiences that we observe through all of our senses are like boats headed to a specific destination. Usually, the brain can get the boat to wherever it needs to go. But when there is something blocking the natural flow of the water (such as intense emotion or disturbance), the boat can get stuck. This can back up other boats trying to come down that same route, causing major congestion, which, in turn, causes symptoms that are usually disturbing and uncomfortable.
When that specific memory comes up, distress is experienced, and some people say they feel as if they are reliving the incident. EMDR helps remove the block so the boats can continue on along the path of the river to its original destination, which eliminates the congestion and, therefore, the symptoms.
In a nutshell, a person will come into therapy wanting to
work through trauma, anxiety, depression or other
difficulties and challenges he or she is facing. The first
session is about getting as much information as possible
about what is going on in a person’s life and how it
is affecting him or her. Once the major issues that the
person wants to work on have been determined, the
preparation process begins. Once a person has moved
through stabilization, he or she
is ready for the reprocessing phase of EMDR where the
brain gets to do its self-healing.
During this phase, the therapist will help the person target one specific thing they would like to work on. The person will bring up an image associated with the thing that is bothering them, in addition to identifying a negative belief associated with the image. The person will also be encouraged to identify the emotions and body sensations they experience when thinking about the target image. This gets the brain and body engaged and ready to start the work.
More information about the phases of EMDR can be found through the EMDR Institute’s website.
As fantastic as EMDR is, it is not for everyone. The
reprocessing phase of EMDR can bring up intense emotion,
which can be very anxiety-provoking for some. Other
therapies are very good at preparing a person to start
working on their past, present and future. Knowing that
EMDR may be an option for you or someone you love is
important, as more options usually means more hope for
recovery and a better, happier life.
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