emdr: what it is & how it works
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a highly effective treatment for those with many different emotional difficulties. Those who complete EMDR therapy report decreased emotional intensity and decreased debilitating consequences caused by past disturbing experiences.
EMDR was originally developed for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but has also proven to be effective in areas such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and performance anxiety to name a few. Recent studies involving MRI scans have demonstrated positive changes in brain structures following resolution of traumatic memories. After successful completion of EMDR, lives can be transformed and symptoms of anxiety, depression, and trauma can be relieved.
EMDR involves a very specific protocol. A client is asked to focus on memories, experiences, or events that are upsetting. The emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations that are associated with these experiences are also defined. The brain is then stimulated with repeated sounds, eye movement, or taps on alternate sides. This can include headphones with beeps alternating in each ear or following a light bar back and forth with one’s eyes. As a result of this unique way of processing, the experiences become less intense and often feel more distant. This reduction in intensity and distance frees the client from the emotional charge. Instead of being held hostage by the intensity of a past event, often the client will note “it doesn’t bother me the way it used to” or “I feel I can watch it from a distance now.”
The most powerful aspect of EMDR is also what makes it very different from other therapies. This aspect is the way EMDR gets clients out of their head. The thinking mind can only take us so far. We typically can't think our way to create the change we really need. We need to access the energy that we hold in our bodies. That energy can only be accessed when we create safe states where we can simply observe ourselves.
Bessel Van Der Kolk states this best in his book "The Body Keeps the Score." He says,
"Most of our conscious brain is dedicated to focusing on the outside world: getting along with others and making plans for the future.
However, that does not help us manage ourselves.
Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change what we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves."
Again, we can't regulate what we feel by thinking harder. This is a control strategy which often gets us deeper into our anxiety or depressive state of mind. Instead we need to get to a state of feeling safe and begin to observe what is already going on within us. This is the process that allows us to change our state of mind. And this is what we do with EMDR.