EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing)
- Did you experience an adverse life experience that continues to cause you anxiety or negative beliefs about yourself?
- Did you experience trauma such as childhood abuse or neglect that continues to cause problems in your life?
- Have you had a single-incident traumatic experience or fear such as a car accident, fear of heights, illness, secondary trauma?
- Do you have nightmares about the fear or event that leads to difficulty sleeping?
- Do you use drugs, alcohol, food to cope with negative beliefs to numb the feelings?
- Do you isolate from others?
You may have experienced a thought of feeling within yourself that causes you to believe something negative about yourself or that makes you feel like you’re not good enough, you’re unsafe or other limiting beliefs. It may be difficulty to explain and often it is common to try and go on with work and other activities trying to make the thoughts and feelings disappear.
It is very common for people to try and numb feelings related to anxiety, depression that may be related to past trauma or adverse life experiences. When you have events in your life that cause you to feel like there is something wrong with you or you are not safe, it causes your brain to create parts that store all of the thoughts, feelings and body sensations that occurred at the time of the painful event. If there are no traumatic events, the brain naturally reprocesses these events without storing them as memories. You can hang onto the positive memories of the event and get rid of anything else. But, when you experience anything traumatic or an adverse event, your brain does not process it in the same way and does not get rid of those memories. Instead, your brain and body store the bad memories in a very disorganized way. Then, when you have various life events, sometimes out of nowhere, you may feel the same emotions, negative beliefs and body sensations that may have occurred at the time of the original traumatic incident. This could be a smell, seeing a person that reminds you of someone from your past, hearing a loud sound, going up an elevator or having a medical test that leaves you feeling anxious. These are called triggers since the traumatic event isn’t currently happening, but your body and mind are reacting as if it is happening in the present moment. Over time, you may stop going up the elevator, stop attending certain events or avoiding being around people who “look” a certain way due to these triggers.
There is a therapy called EMDR that will help your brain reprocess the adverse life experiences or traumatic events, so you will not keep experiencing the same triggers. It is a way to heal your mind and body. It is not an easy process to go through but I have seen people heal from very traumatic experiences and recover from symptoms they have had for years. It does take work and requires the ability to want to relieve these symptoms that have been keeping you stuck.
EMDRIA, the national organization describes EMDR as “an integrative psychotherapy approach intended to treat psychological disorders, to alleviated human suffering and to assist individuals to fulfill their potential for development, while minimizing risks of harm in its application.” More information about specifics of this therapy including a video can be found at www.emdria.org.
What Happens During an EMDR Session?
EMDR therapy has 8 stages and whether you want to do EMDR or not, I use the first few stages with everyone as part of the therapy process. We start with an assessment, which includes a timeline of any adverse life experience along with any resources, supports and accomplishments you have had during your life. We will also discuss ways of handling stress and anxiety and learn new techniques that you can use in between therapy sessions. These stress-reduction skills include the use of mindfulness or paying attention to what you are experiencing in the present moment. This also includes learning how to notice what your body is telling you…this may be feelings of anxiety or tension, heaviness, or muscle tightness. By recognizing your body’s response to stress and emotion, you will be able to “catch” the first response to triggers and use coping skills to reduce the tension, which may help you regulate your emotions. What is called the “preparation stage” may take time so you can learn and practice these skills before actually doing what we call “reprocessing” of the traumatic memory. These are all important steps in the process and although you may want to quickly get relief by “getting rid” of the trauma that has been stored in your body, it is important to not jump too far ahead but learn the skills to stabilize any strong emotions that may arise in between therapy sessions.
After the preparation stage, we will develop a timeline of adverse life events including identifying how much you continue to react to triggers. This helps us prioritize which events should be targeted for reprocessing first. This is part of the initial assessment and treatment planning stage and is a basic road map to our future EMDR sessions. It is also a way to measure progress in reducing your symptoms related to past traumas over time.
At the beginning of each therapy session, we will discuss the time in between sessions, any symptoms experienced and if you would like to continue with EMDR during that session. Each person is different, and some people prefer to discuss issues that arise between sessions where others prefer to continue with reprocessing. It is all part of the therapeutic process.
During therapy sessions, I will continue to ask you how you are feeling certain emotions in your body. Since the body and mind are integrated, being able to identify your body’s reactions are very important.
After your reactions to triggers are resolved, you can decide to continue working on other memories until you have reduced anxiety and stress related to those incidents. We will also look at any future concerns and use EMDR to address these situations, so you are better prepared to deal with them in the future.
We will also look at how you want to feel about yourself related to each of the adverse life experiences and “install” those positive thoughts, which will make them stronger. For example, this may be the thoughts “I can handle it,” or “I am safe.”
What Will You Experience?
Addressing past traumas is very difficult and I know you do not want to feel increased emotions during therapy, but this may occur during reprocessing. What I have heard from others during EMDR therapy is that they are able to use new coping skills to handle possible increased feelings during sessions but may say they feel “lighter” and better able to handle them than previously. These symptoms often begin to reduce in intensity as therapy continues. Everyone is different and progress depends on many factors. We will discuss your concerns and individual issues during your therapy session.
My Own Experience:
After completing basic and advanced EMDR training, I then took the next year to attain my EMDR certification. During that process, I also received EMDR so I do know how this therapy may impact you and what you may expect.
I continue to be amazed at the progress my clients make including reduction of nightmares, fewer panic attacks, ability to attend events that once caused extreme anxiety and less intense emotions when thinking about past trauma or adverse life events.
If you are interested in learning more about EMDR therapy or want to know if you could benefit from it, please call me at 314-899-7140.