EMDR Therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is offering new hope to those for whom traditional talk therapy has not been the answer. Certain life difficulties – suddenly losing a job, marital troubles, divorce, moderate anxiety that keeps hanging around (just to name a few), lend themselves well to talking and getting new ideas and perspectives from a trusted therapist. Other presenting issues, however, like childhood abuse of various types, near death experiences and being the victim of violence don’t respond well to talk therapy for symptom reduction for two reasons. The first is the that the nervous system often goes into a sustained fight-or-flight and/or shut-down response that can’t be turned off just by talking about what has occurred. The second is that clients often have a very good understanding of what has happened to them, (“my dad was a mean alcoholic who beat me all the time,” for example) and deeper insights will not bring peace of mind. Relief for these clients most often means reducing the runaway fight-or-flight / shut-down responses that they are experiencing. That is where a therapy like EMDR becomes very useful, because it works with the psychology and physical body of person to reduce the PTSD symptoms present.
Because EMDR is just now coming into the public’s consciousness more (https://www.instyle.com/health-and-wellness/mental-health/emdr-therapy) many people are both curious and unsure about it. As a certified EMDR psychotherapist, there are some things that I believe potential clients should be aware of prior to embarking on an EMDR healing journey. Here are three of them:
Talking – there is not nearly as much talking in an EMDR therapy as in a traditional therapy session. This surprises many, particularly those who have been in therapy before. Because the healing work is being done through the eye movement themselves, a good deal of the session is done in silence as a client preforms these sets. A client is guided in-between sets by an EMDR-trained therapist. These eye movement sessions are often broken up by more traditional-looking sessions where the therapist and client talk about progress being made or current life stressors that arise.
EMDR therapy is not hypnosis of any kind. The client is always aware of themselves and their surroundings. The eye movements tap into the part of the nervous system that helps us feel calmer and more relaxed (the parasympathetic branch or the “rest and digest” part). Although dysfunctional thought patterns are being addressed, the client is always going to be aware of what is happening.
Once desensitized and reprocessed through, disturbing memories are held differently in the brain and no longer trigger PTSD symptoms. This is the real beauty of EMDR therapy. There are many reasons why this happens that I will explore in another post. One way to experience this before and after of EMDR therapy is to imagine what you had for breakfast this morning – whatever the answer is, there is probably not an emotional or physical reaction. It is just a memory. If you were to think about one of the worst moments of your life, however, a lot of the “yuck” (anxiety, depression, panic, increased heart rate and fidgeting) comes back pretty quickly. Addressing the bad memory with EMDR allows the “yuck” to be discharged off, and it can become just a memory, even if it is never a good memory.